We all know that exercise is good for us; with benefits that are physically and emotionally palpable (such as better sleep, or increased flexibility and strength), it’s hard to rationalize why more of us don’t pursue a consistent exercise regimen. Beyond that, exercise for all those tiny humans running around (a.k.a. the ones under the age of 18) is crucial to their development — both in terms of health and confidence. Given the fact that children often hang on their parents’ every word, sometimes even actually mimicking their behavior, it may be time to consider the impact your inactivity is having on their lives.
Dr. Sarah Kelly, an exercise physiologist and lecturer in the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU, believes that the best way to encourage an active lifestyle in children is to be a good example and live one yourself.
“As parents, we need to be aware of how our behaviors can positively or negatively influence our children. We all know it’s not possible to be the perfect role model, but teaching our kids to take care of their health from a young age is one of the most valuable things we can do for them.”
In the past, this was easier: the lack of technology allowed kids to seek more interactive, physical forms of play. They would play tag; run, jump, and climb for hours on their local playground (which somehow always seemed to last beyond its usual seven to 10-year lifespan); and even make up insanely creative games born of their imagination. Today, however, the accessibility of technology that encourages sedentary behavior, although it may still stimulate the mind, has a much more profound effect on their physical lives and mental developments:
“With reduced activity levels, we are seeing poor cardiorespiratory (aerobic) fitness levels among children. Children with low cardiorespiratory fitness levels are at an increased risk of developing lifestyle-mediated diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and some cancers later in life.”
Dr. Kelly firmly believes that the simple act of being exposed to your parents’ exercise routine — even if it is only a 10-minute walk after dinner every day — can make a positive change in the way they interpret physical activity.
Luckily, there are a number of fun sports and activities out there for your kid to try: team sports are the most obvious, as they build relationships as well as maintain health, but if your child is more independently-inclined, tennis is a great option. It is considered a lifelong sport because of its low-impact nature, making it an ideal sport for you to pick up as well; in addition to bonding with your child over a shared interest, playing tennis for fun can actually burn around 169 calories in 30 minutes for women, and 208 calories in 30 minutes for men — talk about a win-win!
As Dr. Kelly states, “The most important message parents can give their children is that any form of activity is better than nothing at all.” Become a proactive active parent: make the effort to go on walks, do yoga, or join a gym and encourage your children to follow in your stead. Start accruing toys that inspire physical effort, such as rollerblades, frisbees, even the simplicity of a ball and a mitt. If possible, purchase a shed to contain them all (but remember to add 25% more space to your estimation for future storage needs) and label it the “playroom”; the more kids associate exercise with fun, the more likely they’ll be to pursue it.