This Summer “Sneak” Some
Exercise into Your Kids’ Days
Most kids live the whole school year for Summer break! And the 2020-21 school year was one for the books. But now it’s time for them to break loose. With vaccine levels up – including for 12+ kids – and new covid cases down, many families will be venturing out much like they did in prior years. Vacations are happening. And pools are opening! It’s just a couple of weeks past Memorial Day, so many schools have already closed the school year.
Everyone wants to make up for lost time, doing all the things they used to do in the Summer. Even fitness. Many adults developed new fitness routines – some even took up fitness for the first time – at home or back at their regular fitness center or gym. But what about the kids? Yes, many team sports have started back. And classes, like martial arts and dance classes. Summer camps are open again and are a terrific way to expose kids to all kinds of activities and sports. Let your kids choose from single-sport or multi-sport camps or other camps and classes. Who knows? This summer could turn them on to an activity that they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives.
Go Out and Play
Raising fit and active children is tough. Not all of us are naturally active. Not all of us are fit and active ourselves. But none of that means you can get your kids on the path to a healthy, fit and long life.
When many of us were kids, “Go out and play” was our complete fitness regimen. For some, it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with fitness. For others, fitness turned into work when “play time” fell away, and they have an on-again-off-again relationship with fitness.
We all know the benefits to the body and the mind of being fit and healthy. But get this, recent studies show that kids who exercise are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
A few classic examples of “sneaky exercise” — playing a game of tag or hide
and seek, hiking and riding bikes, climbing a tree, playing on the jungle gym just
running around the playground . Even the constant running around the house that toddler
(and even younger) do is exercise! Encourage it. Run and play with them! Be a fit family.
Nowadays, kids would much rather stay in, plug in (the earbuds) and turn on (their devices or the TV) than go out. What’s a parent to do? Of course, there are sports, team and individual. Both the practices and the actual games or matches or performances are what we’re calling “formal exercise.” But in this article, we’re going to talk about “sneaky exercise.” Face it, summer can be months of unstructured time for kids. Especially for kids who don’t participate in those “formal exercise” sports. And keep in mind, some locations have cancelled all team sports for the summer, pushing more kids into the unstructured summer.
The Sedentary Problem
Well before pandemic restrictions kept kids indoors even more, kids and teens were sitting around a lot more than they used to. They spend hours every day in front of a screen (TVs, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) looking at a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). Too much screen time and not enough physical activity add to the problem of childhood obesity.
One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or other screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents put limits on the time spent using media including TV, instant chats, social media, video games and other media should not take the place of getting enough time being active and enough sleep.
One way to make it less horrible for the kids – put that same limit on the adults in the house. You may choose to make it official “family time” and do something together (perhaps a continuation of something started during the house-bound pandemic days, game night, make your own pizza night, etc.).
The AAP also has specific recommendations for how much time, by age group, screen time should be allowed, but you can get tips for that everywhere. Many parents have already implemented no-screen time for their families. So we’ll stick to exercise, to fitness.
KidsHealth.org an organization dedicated to all things health for children, mandates that young children not be inactive for long periods of time, specifically, no more than 1 hour unless they are sleeping. School-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
And HealthyChildren.org, an extension of AAP, has lots of great information on this and many other kid-related topics. Here’s how they layout just how much time kids in several age groups should spend “ exercising”.
*All times should include planned, adult-led physical activity and unstructured active free play.
The 3 Elements of Fitness
If you’ve ever watched kids on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of fitness in action as they play: Cardio, Strength and Flexibility. These three kinds of exercise that we’re all familiar with don’t look like what we think of, but nonetheless, that’s how kids get a lot of their exercise.
Cardio. When we talk about a “cardio workout” that’s aerobic exercise. Kids get their cardio in while they run around the house looking for their backpack, bringing in the groceries, going up and down the stairs (with laundry? Or picking up their leavings everywhere around the house).
Strength. There are specific exercises that are designed to improve strength and the core, but just being an active kid, doing the things kids do naturally as they play, can give the same benefits:
Flexibility. Just reaching for the ketchup across the dinner table or jumping over they sister to get to the door first, stretches those muscles. Activity. Action. Move.
And here’s a hybrid program. If your kid is involved in organized football or you’re at all interested in professional football and/or the Superbowl, you’ve likely heard of the NFL’s Play60, which promotes a minimum of 60 minutes of play per day for all kids. What you may not know is that since 2006, The NFL has partnered in the program with The American Heart Association. The ultimate goal is to get kids physically active and improve their overall health.
There is much hype about their annual contest to bring an outstanding player from the city of each football team to the Superbowl to compete again for prizes. But their NFL PLAY 60 program does a lot more to move them toward that goal. Check their website for more information on this and all of their programs.
The one that hit right on our target of easy, fun Summer fitness for the kids is the NFL PLAY 60 App. This allows them to engage kids at home with their message of play as exercise to get kids up and fit.
Even “Formal Exercise” Can Be Fun
Adults are always looking for variety, fun, things to keep us motivated and make us go back to the gym or turn on that Zumba or Yoga or Spin class. It’s the same for kids. And there are lots of ways to make their exercise routine fun too.
Just Google the search term “kids play as exercise” and you’ll find 2 YouTube videos right up top. One has a 9-minute exercise routine for kids; the other 10 fun exercises for kids to do at home. Of course, there’s a link to dozens more when you go directly to the You Tube site.
And don’t overlook the articles in the search results. Many of them are packed with content that is right on point and are by credible organizations whose mandate is children’s health. Now worries, some have their own videos on proper form for strength and flexibility exercises. Text them to you kids and see if they want to try some of them out.
Enjoy your Summer. And “sneak” in exercise whenever You can — the kids will learn.
More links to find fitness ideas for kids and families:
- The Rochester Athletic Club’s Kid’s area, The Neighborhood. A kid’s dream fitness playground.
- A great article on incorporating fitness in your kids’ lives – plus tips on what to do when your child resists.
- An Rx for Exercise Explains AAP’s policies for child fitness.