How to make fitness and exercise fun for children
With all the current media focus on healthy living, why are so many of our children not reaching recommended levels of exercise for good health? We are all aware of the growing evidence that exercise and healthy eating are important to every aspect of children’s well being. I don’t just mean their body weight and the many risks of associated diseases or health issues. We have to consider the self esteem and confidence issues associated with obesity and poor health and the effect this can have on personal, social, emotional and educational development.
Let’s look at the barriers to exercise for children’s health
and how we can remove the barriers identified.
Time is an issue for many of us. The recommended guidelines from Government are that children should aim for an hour daily of energetic exercise. This could be in the form of play, walking, sport, dancing, swimming etc. It is suggested that aiming for an hour and a half on occasions would be most beneficial as it then allows the child to ‘bank’ some time for less energetic or wet weather days. This time can be accumulated throughout the day and actually it suits children to exercise in ‘peaks and troughs’ to allow for recovery and cooling off, refuelling (with healthy snacks of course) and then off they go again! If a child was to walk to and from school (average 10 mins each way), play outside for half an hour throughout the day at lunch and break times, play out in the garden or at the park for half an hour after school or possibly attend a fitness/swimming/martial arts session twice a week, along with their school P.E., they will have met those targets. And how about squeezing in a session at the gym for you, whilst the kids are in their fitness class?
Another barrier for some children is the dominance of competitive sports or games which require good co-ordination skills, ball control or strength. This will always be difficult for some kids and can give them a sense of failure or defeat every time they are last in the race or miss the catch in a game. Not all kids have those sports skills or abilities but there are lots of alternative ways for children to enjoy exercise.
A general fitness session can involve games which get the heart rate up and encourage children to test their agility, balance and coordination, build strength and stamina and CONFIDENCE!! This can be done with you too, Guys! Get a cheap plastic bat and ball set- if they don’t have good ball skills or have coordination difficulties, play ‘Dodge ball’, ‘It’ or ‘Stuck in the Mud’ with them. In my children’s fitness classes I have found these are the most popular games. You don’t even need any equipment for some of them. I bought a range of equipment for my fitness sessions and one of the most popular items has been ping-pong balls. 6 for £1 at a factory outlet! The children love the speed and the strength of the bounce in them and will get their heart rates racing chasing them around! Plan the games non-competitively, so that there aren’t winners and losers. Your children will love the time and attention from you if you play these games at home or in the park or encourage their friends to join them and most importantly you will have fun. All of the kids in my exercise classes are really excited if their parents join in for a few minutes at the end.
Think of the value of instilling the exercise bug in your children, so they grow up seeing exercise as part of their daily routine, something you just ‘do’. Like cleaning your teeth or going to school. It’s just something that happens in your day. Don’t stop at a quick ‘kick around’ down the park. Try something new together. You can smash the stereotypes and remove another barrier.
There are so many cool places to take kids in Essex, many of which are free and there are also organised events which you and your children can do together. Bank some good quality life for later and look forward to a happy, healthy future. Change the cycle and make your children fit for life.
Hazel is a qualified Personal Trainer and Children’s Exercise specialist. She runs groups for 5-11 and 11-16 year old children and young adults at The Chase Sports and Fitness Centre on Prittlewell Chase, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. She also leads walking and ‘all over body workout’ sessions on the seafront for participants of various mobility and fitness levels. One group is ideal for people with young children as it would be possible to push a buggy on the walk. (see the Healthy Life Essex Health and Fitness Walks page)