The thought of living a healthy lifestyle sounds great but can also seem time-consuming and challenging, especially to parents. However, the increase of obesity and the decline of physical activity has received widespread attention in the last few years, for good reason. In fact, 13.7 million children and adolescents (ages 2 to 19) are obese.
As the concern regarding obesity in both childhood and adulthood is on the rise, it is crucial to educate children about healthy choices and get them excited about making such decisions independently. Although, we must not only ensure that we are promoting our child’s physical health but keep our own health in mind as well.
The Rise of Obesity
In 2018, the U.S. government issued fitness guidelines for an age group never given guidelines before. These guidelines were for children ages 3 to 5 and expressed children in that age group should be engaged in active play for at least 3 hours a day. Ultimately, individuals of all age groups tend to spend most of their time completing sedentary activities, either sitting in front of the computer or watching television. In 2016, about 62% of children ages five to eleven spent two or more hours watching television or videos every day. It is crucial that parents pay attention to how much time their children spend with technology in comparison to their time on other activities.
Children are not the only age group that is not getting their recommended amount of physical activity each day. Currently, more than 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not getting a sufficient amount of physical activity. As the issue of a lack of physical activity affects all age groups, the best way to change this trend is to work together to improve.
Although many may know that they need to make healthier choices, they tend to be aware that they will struggle to stick to better physical habits. As a result, some adults look to find a friend who has similar weight loss goals to workout with at the gym. In some cases, this will motivate both individuals to exercise more. Therefore, if you are thinking about getting your child involved in a sport, look to find friends with children of a similar age range who can sign up for the same activity. This might motivate your child to want to go to the activity because they get to see their friends.
The easiest way to stick to better habits is to work together to improve physical health as a family. For example, aim to eat a healthy dinner each night or take a walk together. It is easiest to avoid temptation and stick to eating healthy meals if everyone adjusts to eating healthier together.
It is particularly important that adults begin teaching children about healthy habits as children who are overweight/obese are likely to be overweight/obese into adulthood. Additionally, there are several other negative health effects that result from being overweight/obese and not getting enough physical activity. Some of the negative effects resulting from obesity include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and high blood pressure. By educating children about the importance of a balanced diet and physical activity, adults can have a long lasting impact on the child’s behaviors. Furthermore, if parents are to get involved in their child’s healthy habits early on, they can save them from serious medical problems in the future.
5 Tips for Physical Wellness
It is easy to find excuses why now is not the best time to think about altering such behavior. However, as May is physical wellness month, it is a perfect time to transition into talking to your child about how they can become healthier.
1) Start With Small Changes
The idea of making a lifestyle change can be both overwhelming and exciting. Although it is easy to find motivation in the beginning, many struggle to incorporate new habits into their daily life in the long term.
One of the best ways to get on the right track with adapting to a new routine is to implement changes slowly. First, consider thinking of ways to incorporate physical activity into your day that won’t alter your established routines drastically. This includes thinking about things such as where you drive to that you can instead walk or take a bike ride to with your child. This will not only make a new habit easier to incorporate but will give ideas on other simple ways to make changes.
Another way to implement changes slowly is instead of starting by expecting yourself to provide three healthy meals for your family a day, start with one. If you are going to begin exercising, start by just taking a walk ten to fifteen minutes a day and increase gradually. This will likely keep you from feeling overwhelmed and thinking that the new habit takes up too much time and energy.
One way to eliminate some of the stress of getting your family to live a healthier lifestyle is to ask for help. For example, get your child involved in the decision-making to help establish new habits. If it is a nice day outside, ask them if they would rather take a bike ride or take a walk. This will help your child look forward to the activity because they had a choice.
2) Take a “T.V. Timeout”
How many hours does your child sit in front of the television or computer or spend scrolling on their phone per day? The negative effects of screen time on children has been thoroughly discussed and studied, especially recently. Though the advancement of technology assists busy parents who use it as a distraction or a “pacifier” for their children, it negatively impacts the advancement and health of children in several ways. It has been reported that too much screen time can affect a child’s social skills, fine motor skills as well as emotional skills. Although not everyone agrees about the negative effects that screen time has on children, screens do tend to keep people from being active.
As mentioned above, new guidelines on physical activity have recently been given for children that are ages 3 to 5. These guidelines are focused on the belief that children need to get better sleep and have more time for play as opposed to spending time sitting and watching screens. One way that children can get better sleep is by not being on technology close to bedtime. Overall, children will get better sleep when they use their energy throughout the day instead of being at rest with sedentary activities.
If your child is used to a lot of television time, they can be very hesitant towards getting away from technology to exercise, especially in the beginning. If the thought of limiting your child’s television time at first seems impossible, first work physical activity into your child’s screen time.
For example, if they are watching television, have them do exercises during the commercials. Parents can either have their children do a list or choose one exercise such as jumping jacks that they must do until their show comes back on the television. This will not only get them up from the couch and doing something physically active, but will give their eyes a rest from looking at the screen in some cases. In fact, to help eye strain, those who are using the computer should take a 20-second break every 20 minutes. By encouraging physical activity, you can help your child to prevent eye strain as well, no matter what device they are using for entertainment.
One of the primary things to think about when encouraging your child’s physical wellness is to think about their food choices. Both adults and children alike will often sit down to watch television with their favorite snack. While this can make the activity more enjoyable, it is highly not recommended for many reasons. One reason is that as children and adults become interested in what they are watching, they may become engrossed in the program and there is a likelihood that they may eat more than necessary.
3) Focus on Individual Interests
What activities do you find it is easiest to get your child to do? It is most likely the activities that they have the most fun doing. Therefore, if you want your child to enjoy being active, think about their personality and interests.
- Is your child highly competitive?
- Do they enjoy playing on a team sport?
- Would they rather play baseball or basketball? What about both?
This can be one of the most important things that determine your child’s future interest in physical activities. If they enjoy what they are doing, they are more likely to complete the physical activity on their own. Similarly, if they feel that their teammates don’t think they play well, they will instead find comfort in being in front of the television.
If you decide getting your child involved in team sports is the best way to get your child engaged in physical activity, be aware of your own attitudes. While it is easy to get carried away, stress should not be placed on winning the game. What matters most is that your child is trying their best, having fun and developing skills. This will keep your child excited about engaging in the activity because they won’t feel pressured to perform well.
Also, think about ask your child what activities they can come up with to get themselves up and moving. This will give you a list to work through with possible ideas, especially when your child is bored.
4) Discuss the Changing Habits
How often do you take the time to talk to your child about making healthy diet choices or staying active? You are most likely familiar with telling your child to do something and then them asking why. It is necessary to discuss with your children why they should do things that you want them to do, so that they understand why it is important. While sometimes it can be difficult to explain to your child why, the importance of eating healthy and exercising is crucial to go in depth about.
Once you come to the conclusion that a healthier lifestyle is necessary for your family, have an open discussion about why. If you have a younger child, you can start off a discussion with something basic, such as :
- “We need to eat healthier and exercise so that we can live longer.”
- “We need to eat more vegetables because they give us energy. The energy you’ll gain from eating vegetables will help you perform well in your soccer game.”
- “We need to drink more milk because it has calcium and calcium helps with strong bones.”
For older children, explain certain benefits of different physical activities and different fruits / vegetables.
- “We need to eat more broccoli because it has calcium which helps us develop strong bones.”
- “We are going to take walks more because walking will help make our hearts strong.”
- “Make sure you eat all your celery - it helps you get the water you need daily.”
Another way to educate older children or gauge their knowledge is by asking if they know of other benefits that certain fruits/vegetables can bring them. For example, “what other vegetables do people eat that give them the calcium that they need?” Overall, talk to your child about a balanced diet such as by discussing with your child the impact of eating a lot of sweets or drinking too many sugary drinks. By discussing the subject, they will come to know why their diet needs to be that way.
5) Let Your Child Experiment
For some parents, it is easy to figure out what activities their child will like or dislike, especially if they are older. But if that isn't an easy question to answer for you, it is nothing to be ashamed about. Instead, take this as an opportunity to learn more about your child and experiment. Consider looking into park district classes in the local community and have your child experience a few different things. Be open to what your child wants to do but pick out some things as well so that they can have a lot of different experiences. If this doesn’t fit your budget, look for parents with children of similar ages and having them spending time playing outside to see what your child gravitates toward or avoids.
Most importantly, make the experience of trying new activities, choosing different foods and learning about the importance of fruits and vegetables as well as a good diet fun. If you tend to buy the same things at the grocery store, consider changing up your shopping list (especially if most of the “healthy” foods go uneaten in your house). If your family does not eat fruit often, think about trying a fruit which no one has tried before. A curiosity regarding the taste might be enough to make family members consider eating that fruit. Occasionally choosing to pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store can make the thought of eating well exciting. Let your child take the responsibility of picking out something new for the family to eat. This will increase their excitement because they get to select what looks interesting to them which in turn increases their sense of independence and decision-making skills.
Ultimately, if your family might be apprehensive to try something new, the best way to make sure what you purchase doesn't go to waste is to look up recipes which incorporate the new fruit/vegetable you decide to buy.
One method that you can use to motivate your child at the grocery store is to have them find something of a specific color, as different colored fruits have different benefits. For example, oranges have vitamin A which helps keep the immune system functioning so there is a less likelihood of getting sick.
When parents give their children the ability to make decisions regarding their own physical wellness and make it fun, children may be less resistant. By working together to become more active, we will become healthier individuals and happier families.
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Sarah Strobel is a Play Coordinator and Staff Writer for the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.