Active Kids Active Parents

Think back to when you were a kid. Do you have fond memories of spending hours outdoors playing chasing, climbing trees, riding your bike or perhaps hitting a six in an impromptu game of cricket in the street?

Unfortunately many of today's children never experience these things that we took for granted. No, this isn't a description of the world's most disadvantaged communities - but rather our so-called "well-off" Australian children. And they are well off - most Aussie kids have just about everything they need; good shelter, plenty of food, tons of toys, computers and games, and a loving home. But unfortunately, all of this wealth doesn't necessarily provide one of the most important things that they need - physical activity! A chance to play and run and jump and climb and discover.

Children and teenagers need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This doesn't mean putting them on a treadmill for an hour, but rather giving them the opportunity to play actively or participate in sport. In this era of computers, televisions and play station games, it's all too easy for children to swap the active leisure time that we enjoyed as children for passive indoor activities.

So what can you do to help your kids be more active? Read on for some creative tips and ideas.

1. Be a good role model

If your children see you regularly enjoying physical activities, they're much more likely to follow your example. It's never too early to introduce children to the joys of exercise - start taking regular walks with your baby in a stroller and they'll continue to expect it to be a part of everyday life as they grow older.

2. Make opportunities for exercise

Take every opportunity you can to step up the pace of your everyday activities. This is called incidental exercise, and every little bit helps. Research has shown that exercise doesn't need to be done all at once, it can add up over the day - 10 mins here, 20 minutes there and so on.

  • Try walking or cycling with the children for short trips, instead of automatically driving the car
  • Park further away from the entrance when you go shopping
  • If you go on a bus ride, jump off a stop early and walk the rest of the way
  • Make a game out of household tasks - for example, first one to race out and bring in the most clothes from the clothes line gets to choose the next game to play
  • Surprise your children by doing unexpected things, like racing to the car instead of walking, or pretending to walk like a dinosaur instead of just strolling
  • Keep a tennis ball, football or bocce set in the car - you never know when you might have a chance to use them

3. Play actively

When you can, involve your children in active play (such as chasey, football or riding bikes) rather than passive activities (like drawing or computer games).

There are tons of active games that children love to play, try some of these ideas:

  • Totem-tennis, table tennis or frisbee
  • Swimming, water volleyball or duck diving for coloured pegs
  • Throw, catch or kick a ball
  • Build a cubby house or sculpture out of boxes
  • Throw water balloons
  • Make up imaginary characters and act out a play
  • Shoot some basketball hoops
  • Have piggy back races or one legged races
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Climb trees
  • Play fetch with the dog
  • Put on some music and dance
  • Sometimes children are reluctant to play actively on their own - you can encourage them by joining in. A game of catch is much more fun when Mum or Dad play too!

4. Make birthday parties active

Try a piñata!Choosing an active party theme has lots of benefits. As well as getting some exercise and burning off some of that endless energy that only kids have, there's no time to get bored which means less chance of them bickering with each other or becoming over excited.

Many places hold organised party activities complete with carers and play leaders. Try roller skating parties, pool parties, laser games, mazes and fun play centres.

If you're holding a party at home or in a park plan plenty of games, such as egg and spoon races, piñatas, treasure hunts or tag.

You can also give presents which encourage activity, such as a skipping rope, football or bike.

5. Restrict television and computer time

Monitor the amount of time your children spend in passive activities, such as watching television or playing on the computer. Sure, these types of activities aren't bad for your child, but when they are done for long periods of time and in place of more active activities they do have an impact on the health of your child.

Studies have found that a huge 97 percent of Australian children aged 5 to 14 watched television or videos during their free time. Other studies show just how bad large amounts of television watching is for their health - with those children in the study who had watched more than two hours of television per day more likely to develop serious health problems as young adults.

Keep television, computers and videos to an enjoyable treat, watch only the shows that are suitable for your children and turn off the television when the show finishes - don't just keep it on all day as background noise or as a babysitter. One hour or less per day of these types of activities is a good goal.

6. Organised sport

When your child is old enough, they might find an organised sport enjoyable. As well as improving their fitness, they'll also make friends, learn about team work, improve their coordination and motor skills, and learn about rules and being a "good sport".

Make sure it's a sport they enjoy, and that the focus of the team is on having fun and participation rather than on being highly competitive, especially for younger children. Older kids might enjoy the challenge of a little healthy competition, but keep things in perspective.

There are many types of organised sports, including football, soccer, basketball, netball, hockey, volleyball, athletics, swimming teams, tennis - even dancing (ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom, hip hop and so on) is a form of organised sport. Find something they're interested in.

Watching live sports matches might help to encourage them to participate in a game at their level. You can also follow up the watching of a match with a backyard game of your own.

Don't forget to make safety a priority and ensure your child is well protected with the appropriate helmets, mouth guards, protective pads and so on. Removing jewellery before a game is a good idea too.

7. Make family activities active

When you're planning family activities make them active ones.

  • Take the whole family out for a walk after dinner
  • Go for a cycle around the river or lake, stopping for a picnic half way
  • Go bowling
  • Organise a picnic with other families or friends and be sure to include a game of cricket
  • Set up a frisbee golf challenge - it's like golf but using a frisbee! Take turns choosing the next 'hole' (target) to hit and keep track of your scores
  • Have a friendly game of 'piggy-in-the-middle' or tag
  • Hire tandem bikes for a day
  • Get everyone in the family to choose their favourite songs and dance to them all - the kids will think your "daggy" music is hilarious and you'll have a laugh trying to dance to their "modern" music
  • Try catamaraning, sailing or canoeing
  • Go for a bushwalk in a national park
  • Explore an area in your city by foot - follow an historic trail or make your own route based on your family's interests
  • Take a wander around your local markets - as a bonus you might even pick up some fresh healthy produce for dinner

Teenagers

Teenagers are very different to younger children. The teenage years are often about determining their own identity and asserting independence.

While your teenager may have loved participating in games and physical activities as a child, this could stop suddenly once they hit the teenage years. Many teenagers, both girls and boys, become very self-conscious. Girls may worry that they'll look silly, that people are looking at them, that they might trip in front of their latest 'crush' or they may feel uncomfortable about their changing shape. Boys may feel embarrassed if they're not naturally gifted at sport or don't have an athletic body type. School sports change rooms can be a place of anxiety for many teens.

Helping teens keep up their activity levels requires thought, compassion and encouragement. Maybe your teenager would prefer to join a gym or take aerobics classes, or maybe an organised sport would help them combine social desires with fitness?

Even if they don't participate in organised activities, you can still make sure your teen gets plenty of physical activity by encouraging them to join in family activities, such as a game of cricket in the back yard or an evening walk with the family. Maybe you can start a routine with your teenager where you walk regularly together, giving you the chance to spend some quality time with them as well as helping both your and their fitness?

Talk to them about fitness and how important it is to their health now and in the future. Ask them what types of activities they would enjoy participating in, and help them to maintain a regular exercise routine (this might mean being the taxi yet again as you ferry them to soccer training or to the gym).

Think broadly, be creative and be clever - if you don't announce that it's "exercise" they just might not notice!

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Reproduced with permission from CalorieKing.com.au. All material copyright CalorieKing.com.au

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