Staying healthy should be child’s play
With research telling us only one in 30 children are as active as they should be, HANNAH BRITT asks the experts how to encourage families to move more
BEING active as a kid should be child’s play – but a study from Exeter and Plymouth universities tracked 807 primary school children’s activity for a week and the results made for worrying reading.
Only one in 30 children did the recommended hour of exercise each day.
Terry Austin, physiologist and head of school wellbeing at Nuffield Health, says the research highlights a concerning trend. “Current recommendations are for children to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This promotes better general health, stronger bones and muscles and higher levels of self-esteem,” he says.
“This should include moderate activity, such as cycling and playground games, and more vigorous exercise including running and team sports.
Here’s how to get the kids moving:
COMPUTER SAYS YES
SCREEN time is one of the key sources of rows between parents and children but there is a way to stop gaming-mad kids from sitting down to play.
“Exergaming” – computer gaming that involves physical movement – is a way to encourage kids to get active. The majority of “exergaming” games achieve activity levels of moderate intensity, which meets guidelines for health and fitness,” says Mark Griffiths, a psychologist and gaming expert.
“And anyone who has played Nintendo Wii Fit or taken part in dancing computer games knows that energy is definitely expended.”
LIVING ROOM WORKOUT
HOME workouts are an easy way for adults to get fit. Now kids can join in with fun fitness sessions specially tailored to different age groups.
Les Mills’ Born To Move on-demand online service features exercise routines for toddlers through to teenagers. It has dance, yoga, martial arts and athletic moves all set to an upbeat soundtrack.
Each class teaches age-appropriate motor skills focusing on agility, balance, coordination, endurance, flexibility and speed. Sample workouts are free on lesmills.com or pay £9.99 a month to access them all.
TOURIST IN YOUR OWN TOWN
EXPLORING your local area is a great way to get the whole family active, especially when it’s done on foot. Hoop is a free app that lists activities for children up to 11 years old.
“If you want to get your kids moving, look for events that are listed as activities that promote a healthy lifestyle or develop coordination and balance,” says co-founder Max Jennings. “Listings can be filtered by type of activity and price so you can check out all the free things going on.”
For more information: hoop.co.uk.
MAKE IT INTO A GAME
YOU can make almost anything seem fun if you turn it into a game.
“Kids will clean the house if you turn it into a competition,” says Charlie Launder, founder of Bumps & Burpees and fitness expert at The Baby Show.
She recommends starting a race to see who can be the first child to put all their toys away.
“Make it seem like a treasure hunt around the house and offer a prize to the first person who finds and tidies up their toys,” she says.
“Or why not give them a duster and see who can be first to sweep a shelf?”
FOLLOW YOUR FRIENDS
IF CHILDREN see their friends playing, they’re much more likely to join in. To encourage this, Charlie suggests that you organise an outing as a group.
“Team up with some mum friends and take the kids to the park with a football,” she says. “Often children just need to be encouraged to get out of their comfort zone.
“Seeing other kids running around and having fun will give them the nudge they need to do the same.”
HAVE AN ADVENTURE
AN adventure playground is the ideal place for children to get active physically and mentally.
“These are fantastic places to explore,” says Melissa
Hood, founder of The Parent
Practice. “Kids can dig in the dirt and build dams or they can sail a pirate ship over the waves.” Playgrounds allow children to take risks and use their imagination to play in a safe environment that is not directed by adults. “Taking risks is great for building independence and developing problemsolving skills. Kids can challenge themselves and grow in confidence,” says Melissa.
The physical benefits include muscle-building, coordination and developing visual-spatial awareness.
WALK THE SCHOOL RUN
LEAVE your car at home and walk all or part of the way to school one morning.
“The more you can do to make things fun while walking, the better,” says Melissa. “Have various stopping points along the way, for example, trees, lamp posts or benches. Let the kids race on ahead to the next stopping point.
“Tell them to wait there until you catch up, then give them a ‘magic tap’ on the head that allows them to go on.”
Walking to school is a great opportunity to chat too, which you may have become a bit unfamiliar with if your kids are usually staring at a screen. “Talk about what you see on the way – trees, squirrels, even rain,”
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
“KIDS learn by example, so make sure you’re setting a good one,” says psychologist Emma Kenny.
If parents play physical games, sport or just enjoy walking about in nature, then their children will too.
“Bike riding is a great family fitness activity that doesn’t feel like exercise. Pack a picnic and go out for a couple of hours at the weekend,” suggests Emma.
“Sign up for charity walks or fun runs. Or if you’re at home, crank up the music, get the family together and dance. This makes movement fun.”
GET BACK TO BASICS
WHEN it comes to games, some of the oldies are definitely still the best.
“Tug of war, egg and spoon races, sack races – these traditional games are brilliant for boosting activity,” says Nicola Addison, personal trainer at Healthspan.
Nicola recommends drawing a hopscotch grid on the pavement or taking a skipping rope to the park.
If it’s raining, hide and seek against the clock is a fun way to get moving around the house.
TRY SOME ANIMAL MAGIC
GETTING children to be responsible for pets is a great way to boost activity without them realising.
“If you have a family dog, incorporate a daily walk into your child’s routine,” says David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics (freeletics.com).
You could also give a little extra pocket money for walking the dog.
This will reward your child for being active and instil a sense of responsibility.
“You don’t have to have a dog to get your kids active,” says David.
“Encouraging them to play or help look after any pet, be it a cat, a hamster or even a fish, can help them be active.”
Just getting the kids outdoors might be all it takes to keep them fit and healthy
Turning housework into fun is another simple way to get your brood working those muscles – but perhaps not this young!
If you have a pet incorporate a dog walk into your child’s routine