Children all over the world are not exercising enough, placing their health and even lives at risk. In the United States, a staggering 17 percent of the children and adolescents (2 to 19 years) are overweight—in part due to diet but also to lack of physical activity. About another 17 percent are at risk of becoming overweight. (The term “obesity” is not used with children.) In the past 20 years, the prevalence of overweight among U.S. children aged 6-11 has more than doubled (7% in 1980 to 18.8% in 2004).
Physicians are now reporting diseases in overweight children that were once considered “adult diseases” such as hypertension, type
2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. Children who are overweight also are more likely to become obese and overweight adults, and face
additional health problems and life-threatening health risks including, among others, certain cancers, stroke, and gallbladder
Being overweight as a child can also have a psychological impact. Research shows that overweight children are teased more severely than non-overweight children. Teasing is associated with a poorer self-image, increased weight concerns, loneliness, a preference for sedentary/isolative activities, and a lower preference for active/social activities. Teasing is also associated with bulimic behaviour in overweight children. Fortunately, parents can do a lot to help their child reduce the likelihood of becoming overweight or help them lose weight through exercise. International guidelines recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical exercise every day. Some researchers recommend more. Parents cannot depend on schools to meet this requirement. This is especially true with respect to many Islamic schools, which often offer less time and resources to physical activity than public and other private schools.
Below are 10 tips to help your child exercise. Be creative and remember that both good and bad exercise habits often form early.
You can foster in your child a lifelong love of physical activity and awareness of the importance of taking care of one’s health.
1. Think Ahead
Plan exercise into each and every day. Whether a bike ride, a walk in the park, a trip to the playground, or football (i.e soccer for U.S. readers) lessons, try to make sure that your child gets exercise every day.
Keep play clothes and shoes, bikes, balls, water, etc. in your car. If you don’t have a car, bring a Frisbee, a jump rope, or whatever else you can fit in a backpack. You never know when an opportunity to exercise might present itself.
3. Be Flexible
Seize the chance to exercise whenever the opportunity presents. Change your schedule or drop an errand if need be. Children love
impromptu surprise activities meant just for them.
4. Use the Environment
Your child doesn’t need a playground to have fun exercising. A seemingly empty field can be a great place to go on a scavenger
hunt, run races, or search for the biggest clover. Instead of driving to a store, take a long walk and play “I spy” along the way.
5. Embrace Dirt
Getting dirty can be fun – for everyone! Don’t worry if play clothes get grass stains or become muddy. Plan some activities
that are especially dirty – your child will probably love it.
6. Become a Role Model
Children imitate their parents. If they see you exercising, they will be more inclined to exercise themselves. And you will feel better
7. Exercise Together
Plan family days that involve physical activity. Spend a day hiking in the woods, skiing, swimming, etc.
8.Try New Things
Experiment with different types of physical activities. You may be surprised at what your child will find enjoyable and be good at. You may learn something about yourself as well.
9. Have fun
Engaging in physical activity should be fun for your child. Don’t make it into a chore. Find activities that your child enjoys the most and encourage them.
Make sure your child’s participation in physical activity is safe and appropriate for his/her age and skill level. Remember that not all
children develop at the same time. For example, all children should wear helmets when bike riding (adults too!). Young children should be supervised on play ground equipment. Children should be carefully watched while swimming even if they are good swimmers.
Finally, exercise time is also a good time to reinforce the values that are important to you. A walk in the woods is the perfect opportunity to teach your child about appreciating nature and learning its signs, as well as expressing gratitude to Allah for the beauty He has created. Playing on the playground presents a good opportunity to teach about charity to others.
J. Samia Mair is a regular contributor to SISTERS, a former public health researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health, runner, and mother of twin girls.