As cooler temperatures set in, kids may spend more time indoors. With the fascination surrounding the computer, video games, and TV, today's kids are more prone to a sedentary lifestyle. And, as America's childhood obesity epidemic increases, many parents are concerned about their kids' fitness and health.
Fitness expert and author Tom Gilliam urges parents to take a more proactive role in facilitating good habits for their kids. "Don't preach to your kids from the 'parent pulpit' and impose a bunch of arbitrary diet and exercise rules. Instead, live a healthy body weight message, every day, and your kids will naturally come along for the ride," he explains.
Gilliam shares fun and simple suggestions for making fitness a family affair:
¢ Explain to your older child that his Body Mass Index (BMI) multiplies his body weight (in pounds) by 705; then divide by the square of his height (in inches) reveals whether he's overweight or in the normal range. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is optimal. If your child is overweight, help him work toward his "magic number" of 25. If he's already within the normal range, explain that it's important to maintain that level.
¢ Educate older kids on how to read food labels. You may need a crash course yourself, first, and that's OK. "When kids learn to read food labels, they'll be able to see that sodas, for instance, are prohibitively high in sugar," he says. "And they'll learn that the bottle that looks like one serving is actually 2.5 servings - so they're getting more than twice the sugar than they may think at first glance!"
¢ Connect exercise with activities kids already like to do. For example, if your kids love video games, the Wii can be a great form of exercise. If they're interested in science, take them on weekly nature walks where they can identify trees, plants and bugs to their heart's content. But what if all they want to do is watch TV? Fine, says Gilliam, just tell them they can watch their favorite show only if they exercise while it's on. They might walk on the treadmill, walk or run in place, stretch or lift hand weights.
¢ Use books, videos, and other stories to help drive the point home. If you have a teenage daughter who loves to read, give her a subscription to a fitness magazine. Give your 10-year-old son a martial arts video aimed at kids. (There are tons of kid-friendly fitness videos on the market!).
¢ Let your child wear a pedometer every day. Kids who love gadgets will enjoy measuring their steps. Remind them that 10,000 is the number of steps to aim for each day. Rather than seeming like a dreaded chore, that daily walk will become a fun challenge!
¢ Consider exercising in the morning. "If you try to squeeze fitness activities in during the evenings, they'll rarely happen," says Gilliam. "Between homework, afterschool events, dinner, and chores, you'll just run out of time. Try getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual and going for a walk as a family. It's amazing how much better a.m. exercise makes everyone feel!"
¢ Show them what good long-term health looks like. Admittedly, it is tough for kids to see beyond the next day, much less 50 years down the road. But you can use people you know as "object lessons" to drive your point home.
¢ Make a game out of shopping for and serving healthful foods. It's easy to get stuck in a rut with the same old expected "good-for-you foods" like corn, green beans or apples. Gilliam suggests having some fun with the shopping/cooking process as a way to alleviate boredom for you and your kids. "Maybe you can introduce an unusual fruit or vegetable every week - star fruit or guava or artichokes," he says. Or designate a week as 'Red Foods Week' and let your kids select every healthful red food they can think of: tomatoes, strawberries, beets, apples, watermelon and so on. Then, work a red food into every meal."
"It's all about the decisions we make every day," Gilliam says.