When we look at the state of fitness for children in America nowadays, the statistics are worrisome. According to the American Council on Exercise:

  • About 15 percent of children ages 6-19 are seriously overweight
  • Over 10 percent of pre-school children 2-5 are overweight
  • One in 5 children in the U.S. are overweight

It’s more important than ever to start kids off on the right foot when it comes to learning that physical activity and exercise will greatly impact their overall health and happiness. Here are some facts and activities to help you get your children started on the road to a healthy and fit life.

Leading By Example

As parents, one of the most important things you can do is to instill healthy lifestyle habits in your children. How do you do this? The best way is to lead by example. Children naturally want to emulate their parents in the early stages of life (as opposed to later on, when they go through their rebellious stages). So, if exercise has not been a regular part of your daily routine and you have a new family, now is the time to consider taking on a new sport or physical activity that you can share with your children.

Some ideas:

  • Use a jogging stroller and go for a brisk walk or jog with your toddler, giving them exposure to the outdoors and a sense of physical activity.
  • Play catch, soccer, Frisbee or other yard games with your children.
  • Introduce and teach your kids a sport or activity that you already participate in, such as tennis, running or cycling, so that you can share it with them the rest of your lives.
  • Make fitness a family thing with everybody participating in a weekend hiking or cycling trip to a nearby state park or day at the local forest preserve.

Other Fitness Ideas

There’s an almost unlimited amount of opportunity to get your children to be active. There are many resources, programs and classes that can get them going in the right direction too. Here are some additional ideas for helping your kids get in shape:

  • Enroll them in swim classes at your local recreation center, YMCA or YWCA facility.
  • Look into other programs in your area, such as martial arts, dance classes, tennis lessons, health club personal training or other instructor-led activities.
  • For days when the weather makes it hard to exercise outdoors, get a starter set of free weights or some home exercise equipment and teach your kids to use them properly.
  • Stock up on yard games and sports kits, such as badminton, volleyball, bocce ball, hula hoops, jumping rope and bean bags.

Fitness Busters to Avoid

There are a few unique challenges when it comes to getting kids out the door and active. One of the most common is getting your kids away from video games. Although some motion-controlled games do involve physical activity, they pale in comparison to the exhilaration of outdoor exercise, the sense of accomplishment in competing in an individual sport or the feelings of camaraderie in being part of a team. It’s vital to set some ground rules about video gaming early on, perhaps limiting the time they can spend in front of their computer or game console every day.

Another potential pitfall is the temptation to push your kids too hard in a competitive sport. There are many parents that take their kid’s performance in baseball, soccer or football very seriously, so much so that their children feel pressured to perform. It’s natural for you, as a parent, to want your kids to do well, especially if you are passionate about a sport. But if you want your children to learn to be active and fit, it’s important that they enjoy an activity for their own reasons, not yours. It’s okay to try and motivate your kids to try a sport and stick it out in the early stages when it may be difficult to learn. But, once they’ve had ample time to determine if it’s something they enjoy, give your kids the right to decide to keep playing or try something else.