The Top 7 Strategies for Raising an Active Family

Physical activity is important for children and adults of all ages. Every week adults should get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. For children, it is recommended that they receive 60 minutes of active play every day. And while creative and imaginary play is very important, active play helps to create healthy exercise habits and builds strong bodies.

Becoming an active family is something that can teach children to establish healthy exercise habits into adolescent years and adulthood.

A parent's example has a profound effect on a children—they are their role models, after all. So it is important that parents live an active lifestyle too. Activity often faces barriers like time, energy, cost, location, and distraction. However, with knowing where to start, these barriers can be overcome. Here are some strategies that may work for you.

Schedule the Fun

Each summer we create a summer bucket list of family activities. These are places we want to go or things we want to do that will get us out of the house and interacting with one another. These activities should include local venues where you can get out and moving, even if that movement is strolling through the local park while the children climb all over the jungle gym. For example,  plan a trip to a swimming pool, the zoo, a splash pad, or hiking at a nearby cave or waterfalls.

You should involve the children in creating the bucket list.

They can share their own ideas and the family can select the most popular items that will fit into the budget and calendar. Putting them on the calendar gives the kids something to look forward to. They know it will be a day the family gets to all be together without interruption to enjoy each other's company and make memories as a family.

Keep Energy Levels Up

A balanced diet helps with having the energy needed to be active. Eating whole grains will provide kids with long lasting energy. Snacks should include nutrients, not just empty calories. When kids eat foods that are highly processed and high in sugar they experience hunger again quickly. These kinds of snacks will provide short term energy, but will not provide sustained energy needed to run and play for a long time.

This is particularly important for kids that are involved in sports. Imagine trying to plan a road trip and only providing gasoline fumes in the tank. Your trip would be very short. It works the same with food. By providing whole grains that break down more slowly, for example, you can fill your child's tank and provide the nutrient fuel to last longer during play. Kids can run longer and not tire as quickly.

Get a Good Night's Sleep 

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) reports that sleep needs change as we age. Individual sleep needs vary, but guidelines  based on age include:

  • Newborns: 16-18 hours a day
  • Preschool aged children: 11-12 hours a day
  • School-aged children: at least 10 hours a day
  • Teens: 9-10 hours a day
  • Adults: 7-8 hours a day

These numbers are recommendations. Some children may need more and others a little less, but based on research a child will feel better and perform better with around 10 hours of sleep each night. Tired kids are often not motivated to be active and prefer inactive activities such as watching TV. Compared to well-rested children they are also more prone to accidents.

Partner Up With a Good Friend 

I believe that everyone needs to have a good friend to get out and do things with. As adults, finding an exercise buddy may be a good way to improve activity. They rely on you and you on them to motivate each other.

With children, having a good friend that enjoys activity can be a huge boost in a child's activity level. Engaging in exercise while spending time with a friend is merely playing. They run, play, climb and imagine, firing off all kinds of stimuli in the brain. Playing alone is ok now and then, but having a friend to jump rope with or play basketball with is much more fun.

As a family, finding a neighbor or extended family members that you can plan activities with will increase the excitement and enjoyment of exercise. Although a nice day hiking as a family is fun, planning it with another family can double the fun.

Consider Cost and Location

Fitness should be free. Although going to a gym or a specific venue is a great way to be active, it is not the only way. The outdoors are free! Look into local resources like walking and biking trails, parks, high school tracks, or tennis courts. Chances are there is something near you.

Safety in the environment should be a top priority. Make sure that when selecting a location it is safe. 

The weather can often throw a curve into activity plans. Identify locations indoors and outdoors where kids can have room to climb and play. When you are really in a bind due to cold, heat or rain, an indoor playland at a restaurant can become a park. Just skip the kids meal and go for a yogurt parfait. You could even check the local library for exercise videos to do at home.

Turn Off the TV 

Television is a distraction. Screen time needs limitation. With more electronic entertainment options, it has become harder to get children up and moving. In the last 20 years, the number of children who are overweight has doubled and the number of children who are physically active has gone down. Screen time should be limited to no more than two hours a day.  

Build New Skills

Looking for ways to build new skills in your child will help light a fire of excitement. Kids love to learn new things. Contact a city recreation center or a location that teaches specialty skills like martial arts, dance, or gymnastics. Join a team to learn a new sport—there are usually youth sports programs available where children can learn not only a new sport, but life skills like teamwork, self control, the importance of hard work, and integrity.

Although the barriers to increasing activity can seem overwhelming, it is not something that needs to be conquered all at once. Tackling one barrier at a time and improving a little at a time will grant long-term results. 

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