One of the biggest health problems facing Americans is obesity – one third of all adults and one fifth of all children are obese. Between the prevalence of unhealthy, high calorie, processed food options and the fact that more people are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, those numbers are both expected to rise over the next decade. Along with joint pain and discomfort, obesity also leads to many more serious – and potentially deadly – conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart trouble and certain types of cancer.
Aside from making sure that children are getting adequate sleep and balanced and nutritious meals, encouraging exercise and active play is absolutely critical. With some school districts cutting costs by getting rid of gym class and shortening recess, many children across the country are getting even less of an opportunity for physical activity. Distracting kids from all of the video games, television and other technology that lend to being sedentary can be challenge, but isn’t impossible. The best and easiest way to get children active is to lead by example. Children desire to have a deep connection with their parents and they also learn by imitating them. The earlier they see their parents engaged in routine physical fitness, the deeper the message that exercise is a normal (and enjoyable) part of life.
While adults might go to the gym to get their cardio in, children get exercise by playing. By joining children in play, whether it’s after work or during the weekends, parents can take an extremely hands on approach to their children’s activity levels. Spending time together as a family is such a strong value in many Latino households, building on that to turn family time into active family time, parents are instilling the message that family time is important, fun and beneficial. It also shows that parents aren’t afraid to practice what they preach – which increases the likelihood for the desire to continue an activity.
Unplug and Reconnect
How else can a parent raise active children? For starters, turn off technology or set daily time limits. Studies have shown that children who watch two hours or more of television each day are more likely to be obese. By forcing them away from the television, computer or video games, the child is forced to find other sources of entertainment – and chances are, that entertainment will be much more active. Furthermore, active play encourages a child to use their imagination and develop better interpersonal skills, as the child will have to effectively communicate with those being played with.
Institute active family activities and hobbies. Buy children bicycles and explore your town as a family on two wheels. If that is financially not an option, take family walks in nearby parks or create space in your home for balls, bats, and other equipment that children can use to get going. If the family culture is one that places a value on moving, grabbing these items will be just as natural to your child as grabbing the remote in a household that doesn’t do much exercise.
Get Your Child Involved
Give your child options and make it a game. Forcing a child to do something they aren’t interested in is a surefire way to get the opposite result that you are going for. Exercise is fun! Get your child to think that way as well by allowing him or her to choose the types of activity. Create a little family competition by seeing who can score the most baskets or walk the most steps. Giving a child the chance to win, not only in health, but in a game instantly ups the fun factor.
Start Today For A Better Tomorrow
Even if a household has been traditionally inactive, getting started is key – and it’s never too late to get going. Developing an active and healthy lifestyle is among the best gifts that can be given to a child and can help stave off childhood obesity and all of the serious health risks associated with it, as well as give a child lasting memories filled with fun.
What ways do you keep your family active?
Be sure to check back in in two weeks for Alexandra’s next article, and follow her on Twitter @FitLatina!