The best possible way to encourage your child to exercise is to set a good example. Your child wants to do and be like you. Your level of activity will dictate how active he or she is now and will help your child establish healthy exercise habits for life. Being active together as a family provides a powerful bonding experience with the added bonus of making sure everyone in the family is getting some healthy exercise.
Q: How can I make sure my toddler is getting the right amount and type of exercise?
A: Toddlers are naturally active. Running, climbing, jumping, moving and exploring the world around them is what they’re all about. For young children, it’s more important to limit screen time (and this includes anything with a screen – from TV to computers and electronic devices, like video game players and phones).
The more time your little one spends in front of the TV or another screen, the less time he or she will be using his or her imagination, exploring and being active.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children under 2 not watch any TV at all. For children over 2, screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day. Make sure that even as your child gets older, he or she does not have a TV in her bedroom and you continue to set limits on screen time.
Q: My 8-year-old son has P.E. at school. Isn’t that enough exercise?
A: Even if your son’s school has a physical education program, he might not have it every day nor may the exercise level be enough to meet the recommended daily amount of exercise. Currently, 60 minutes of vigorous exercise (enough to elevate the heart rate and cause sweat) most days of the week are recommended for children and adults.
The elementary school years are the perfect time to encourage kids to try the different options - from organized team sports to exercise classes like dance, gymnastics and martial arts.
If your son is interested in a particular sport or team, let him try it out. If he doesn’t like the sport, that’s fine, too. Try something else. Keep a mellow approach, don’t force it. Remain encouraging and suggest other options.
Q: My daughter doesn’t enjoy organized team sports. How can I make sure she is getting enough exercise?
A: Even if your daughter doesn’t like organized sports, there are plenty of other ways for her and the rest of the family to be active. A few suggestions:
- Take a family walk together after dinner.
- Ride a bike (to school or for pleasure).
- Go for a weekend hike.
- Play pick up sports. Call a friend to kick a soccer ball, shoot some hoops or throw a Frisbee.
- Go rock climbing at the gym.
- Hula hooping, wave boarding or roller skating.
- Find out what classes friends are taking, whether it’s karate or dancing, and join them. Children are more likely to want to try something new if they can do it with a friend.
- Get a family membership to the gym, such as the YMCA. Teenagers often enjoy some of the adult classes, such as kick boxing, yoga or Pilates.
Q: My son loves games on the Wii. For some of the games, he is quite active. Is this good exercise?
A: The Wii games may be billed as active, but are often not so. In some games your son might still be sitting on the couch and only moving his hand or wrist. Remember, for something to be the type of exercise to keep you healthy, you need to sweat and get your heart rate elevated. Try doing the games with him to see if they really qualify as exercise. And, don’t forget to balance these games with the recommended amount of real exercise.
Nancy Barnett, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.
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