When it's summertime, kids tend to spend their days playing outside or splashing around at the pool. And all that activity is a good thing. But how can you help keep your kid's activity level up when school starts again?
According to Pediatrician Stefanie Spaeth, MD, of Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, TX, keeping kids physically active is important for more than just basic health reasons, such as heart health or maintaining a healthy weight.
"Physical exercise has many benefits for kids and adults alike," Dr. Spaeth told dailyRx News. "It helps increase their self-esteem, it helps improve their quality of sleep, it decreases their risk of anxiety and depression and it keeps them healthy."
According to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), kids who participate in regular activity can set the stage for a healthy adulthood.
Although chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease often don't show up until adulthood, risk factors for these diseases may appear early on, according to the ODPHP.
Understanding Activity Recommendations
The ODPHP recommends that children have at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical exercise each day.
Dr. Spaeth said parents don't need to obsess over this number — but should instead use it as a guideline.
"I think that's really just a ballpark figure to help give parents an idea and inspire kids to be active," Dr. Spaeth said. "I think the most important thing is not having necessarily 60 minutes a day, but of limiting the time that they are just sitting around and doing nothing."
Give Kids Time to Play
According to Dr. Spaeth, an important key to keeping kids active is simply giving them the time. This can be especially important to remember during the school year, when the amount of unstructured time available can drop significantly.
"Most kids do not need to be engaged in a formal exercise activity," Dr. Spaeth said. "Most kids have plenty of energy and, if given the opportunity to play, they'll run around and play and they'll burn off all those calories and get the exercise they need. The important thing is making sure they have the opportunity to do this."
During play time, kids often incorporate aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercise, which builds up endurance and promotes heart health.
Running, skipping, jumping and climbing trees are just some examples of these activities.
As kids grow and become teens, exercise can become more structured — think sports games or running.
For most young kids, however, simply having an unstructured period of time for physical activity will ensure that they meet the 60-minute activity goal.
Dr. Spaeth recommends parents find out what their child's particular interests are and then enroll them in extracurricular activities they will enjoy.
"Not all children are natural-born athletes," Dr. Spaeth said. "If they enjoy their activities, they will be more beneficial for them."
The Let's Move initiative recommends that children have access to toys that encourage exercise —like jump ropes, kites and balls.
The Family That Plays Together, Stays Healthy Together
According to Let's Move, children who are surrounded by people interested in exercise or who feel supported to get active are more likely to participate in physical activity.
"For children who may not be inclined to be physically active on their own, it can certainly be helpful for parents to engage in activities with them," Dr. Spaeth said.
Let's Move recommends activities that can motivate the whole family to exercise during the school year. Some examples include walking around the neighborhood after mealtime and limiting TV time.
Dr. Spaeth recommends planning family outings, such as hikes or bike rides.
"In general, the most important thing is that parents set a good example for their children and they take the time to exercise and keep themselves fit and healthy," Dr. Spaeth said.
These tips can make the whole family happier and healthier — even after those free-wheeling summer days are gone.