According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just one in three children is physically active each day, and kids spend an average of 7.5 hours or more a day in front of a screen—whether it’s the TV, computer, a tablet, or video games.
“Too much time on the screen alters brain growth in ways we are just beginning to understand, and fear,” says Marilyn Preston, author of The Art and Science of Personal Well Being. “More time on the screen means more time inside, sitting (and) less time in nature, having real relationships with real people, learning empathy, developing friendships, (and) learning how to handle victory and defeat.” Preston suggests parents set limits on screen time to combat sedentary habits.
In addition, Rachel Brewer, M.D., board-certified pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics, says there are myriad benefits to being active from a young age, “including health benefits as well as secondary gains in terms of self-esteem and social interaction,” she says. “Specific health benefits include maintaining a healthy weight, preventing diabetes, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, joint health, and more.”
Give Kids Options
It’s easy for children to get sucked into the screen, and hard to break away from it. Sit down with your children to brainstorm ideas to fill their down time. Pick up a catalog from a nearby recreation center, browse through it, and ask your kids if there is an activity they”d like to try. Let them voice their opinions and help you explore all that your community has to offer.
Think about the free and convenient resources you might have close by your home like playgrounds, open fields to play kickball, or tennis courts. Commit to going to one of those places a certain number of times per week that fits your schedule. Keep balls, flying disks, hula hoops, scooters, sidewalk chalk, and other active toys readily available for your kids at home and within reach so they can use them when they have free time.
Reach out to friends of your kids and their parents and invite them along. Socializing your kids while doing a physical activity can provide the extra push for them to want to be active. And, when friends are around, kids often want to stay active longer.
School breaks and weekends can pose a particular challenge in keeping kids active, but a routine will help. “Kids typically respond well to structure, and setting even a loose daily routine when they are out of school will help them stay active and reap the associated health benefits,” says Brewer.
Encourage your children to get outside and play by modeling an active life yourself. Ask your kids to take a walk with you on a Saturday morning. Go for a jog while they bike or scooter alongside.
“The key is not only modeling healthy behaviors for our children, but also introducing activities that are fun and enjoyable for kids to stay active,” says Brewer. “This may translate into running a 5K with your kids, playing organized sports, participating in yoga, or offering fun/healthy rewards for your children when they demonstrate healthy behaviors. You have to find the right fit for your kids and family.”
Set goals with your kids to average at least 60 minutes of outdoor play or physical activity a day. You”ll be surprised how quickly an hour can easily turn into an afternoon when kids are engaged and having fun.