When children are active, good things happen. Hearts, bones, and muscles strengthen, disease risk decreases, and reading, writing, and concentration abilities improve. But getting them to be active is not always easy. We see a troubling trend of dwindling school recess periods and skyrocketing amounts of time children spend in front of a screen. In the United States, children's sedentary lifestyles are contributing to an epidemic of childhood obesity and a sharply increasing rate of diabetes diagnoses among children. Parents can help their children reap the benefits of exercise and avert the risks of inactivity in the following ways:
Actions speak louder than words, and children are much more likely to value what we practice than what we preach!
Doing active pursuits together sometimes has unexpected benefits. Our family discovered that some of the best sharing happened around the ping pong table. As a result, our kids learned that there are important social benefits of being active.
All kids love to have fun so make sure exercise is fun too. Doing push-ups on Dad sure beats doing them on the floor. Catching the family dog in the back yard beats running a round a track. Trying to corner our dog usually ended up with our family on the ground exhausted and laughing.
Sometimes children need new options for being active. When our kids were 12 and 14 years old we purchased cross-country skis for the whole family. It gave us a winter activity option that we all still love today.
Looking for evidence of God in nature instills in children a desire to be outdoors, enhancing both spiritual and physical health.
Competitive activities motivate many children, but when the anxiety to perform overshadows the joy of participation, budding athletes often drop out. Both winning and losing can diminish intrinsic motivation for being active.
College students report that exercise used as punishment is a major source of their negative attitudes toward exercise. We send mixed messages to children when we punish them with something we want them to value.
You don’t need to be an exercise physiologist to tell your children the basic benefits of being active. Help kids picture what’s happening inside their bodies when they exercise.
Active community events introduce children to others who also care about health and fitness. Our kids loved progressing from local half-mile races to mile races to 5Ks as the years went by.
Buy gifts that encourage activity. The options are plentiful, but our purchases must reflect our priorities.
—Doug Miller (pictured left, center) is a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance and the Wellness Director at Messiah College. His wife, Dar, directs the gymnastics program for kids on campus; his daughter Mindy, a high school health teacher played soccer at Messiah; and his son Keith, a Brethren in Christ youth pastor, ran track and cross-country at Messiah. The family motto seemed to be ‘If the heart [rate] wasn’t elevated, the heart wasn’t in it!”