Exercise Habits Should Start Early

Encouraging your child to be active now will pay off in the future

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

Parents have a great opportunity to harness the natural energy children have and instill lifelong habits that will keep them active as they grow older. Regular exercise is as important for children as it is for adults because the problem of overweight affects both groups. In the 1970s, only about 5 percent of children were overweight. Today, at least 15 percent of children are overweight. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

By encouraging children to be active, parents can help prevent health risks associated with childhood overweight. Children who are overweight have measurable differences in blood pressure and cholesterol levels compared to children with a healthy weight. The rise in childhood diabetes is almost certainly linked to overweight and/or inactivity. An obese child is more likely to become an obese adult and suffer from heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers.

Be Your Child's Role Model

The federal government's dietary guidelines suggest that children and adolescents should be physically active at least 60 minutes on most days, if not every day. For cancer prevention, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) advises everyone to get an hour of moderate activity a day, like walking, and an hour of vigorous exercise a week, like jogging.

Parents can encourage children more effectively to stay active by setting a good example, rather than telling children what to do. If they want to give their children a reason for staying active, they should focus on the need to feel good and stay healthy, instead of drawing attention to body image.

There are many ways that parents can model good health behaviors, while getting some health benefits for themselves at the same time. Some ideas are:

  • Put your very young child in a stroller and go for a walk. Or strap your child into a bicycle carrier with a helmet and go for a ride.
     
  • If your child can ride a bicycle, jog alongside or get on your own bicycle.
     
  • Limit the amount of time you watch television. By doing this, you will find it easier to limit the amount of time your child watches TV, movies, or video and computer games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of viewing time for children each day.
     
  • Stretch or exercise while watching TV.
     
  • Engage the whole family in physical activities, like Frisbee, playing catch, hiking, gardening, swimming, or rollerblading.
     
  • Sign up for exercise classes like kickboxing or join a sports team. Then sign your children up for classes or team sports.
     
  • Give children rewards, such as a basketball, that encourage them to be more active.

If you're an adult in need of inspiration and motivation to get active, AICR has a brochure for you. Call 1-800-843-8114, ext. 111, to request your free copy of Getting Active, Staying Active.

Excerpted and adapted from AICR Ever Green, Every Healthy, February 2006.

For more information on all of the mental benefits of physical activity, please consult my new book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight. Check my Web site (www.shericolberg.com) for more details or to order a copy today.

Read Sheri's bio here.

Read more of Sheri Colberg-Och's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: July 17, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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