We all know that active kids mean healthier kids – but that’s getting more and more difficult to do. This is particularly true for Generation Alpha: those children born after 2010, in the era of the tablet and smartphone.
In their book Generation Alpha, social research experts Mark McCrindle and Ashley Fell found that children between the ages of 8 and 12 consume on average 4 hours and 44 minutes of screen time per day for entertainment purposes. So how do we get our children away from screens in order to live a more active life?
Rather than trying to force your kids to adopt new habits, the answer may lie in modelling the behaviour we want to see in our own kids in ourselves.
A 2017 study by Statistics Canada found that a child’s level of physical activity rises by five to 10 minutes for every 20 minutes of increase in the physical activity of a parent. The study also found that children with an obese parent were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared with children whose parent(s) were not.
This correlation has far reaching consequences for the time-starved parent in the modern world, as it means the example we set will have even more of an impact on our children’s health than we thought.
But look at it this way: even if you’re a busy working parent, exercise is as important for your own health and so is worth investing in, as it has knock on effects in other areas of your life.
For example, the healthier you are, the more money you’ll save when it comes to medical aid cover – particularly with flexible medical aid plans such as Fedhealth’s flexFED range of plans.
Besides making time for exercise that will model healthy habits in your children, what other ways can you encourage them to adopt an active lifestyle?
Find exercise you can do together
Depending on the age of your children, you can involve them in exercising with you when they’re far younger than you think. For example, a five year old can easily manage an easy walk or hike of a few kilometres with you (assuming it’s gentle terrain of course).
If you have access to nature nearby, take your kids with you when you head out, or walk or jog the 5km Park Run with your kids if there’s one in your area. If they’re too young, you could also fit in exercise when you take them to a park nearby: have them play on the jungle gyms while you do some strength or resistance training on the grass nearby.
Make it fun
Exercise doesn’t just have to be only about doing traditional things like going to the gym or running around the block. What about trying something completely different, from climbing walls to skate parks to water parks? All of these are great for keeping your kids active while being entertaining at the same time.
Organise running races with them on the beach, or keep it simple with obstacle courses, running races or a game of soccer in the garden or local park. Try changing it up too: children love the excitement of the new, and making things interesting when it comes to physical exercise means it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it and take part in it with minimal complaints.
Keep it consistent
Even if you’re doing different exercise, the key is to do it regularly. Here’s where the challenge comes in, but with a little planning and prioritising you can schedule exercise time in regularly, several times a week.
Even if your kids don’t come with you, they’ll see you doing it and it will influence their behaviour in the future. Also, be willing to exercise at different times of the day if necessary. During term time you may not be able to exercise first thing in the morning as you’re getting the kids ready for school, so try later in the day or in the evenings.
Modify your expectations, depending on their age
How you encourage your kids to be active will also depend on their age – and different stages bring different challenges. If getting out the house with a baby or a toddler is too challenging, lower your expectations and try and do exercise at home if you find that easier (there are many free online workouts available).
As they get older, school going children can join in on outings and participate in more activities with you. Then comes the challenge of the preteen and teenage years where your kids may not be as enthusiastic about joining in with you. If this is the case, you can still encourage them to play sport at their school or a local club, while you stay active yourself.
Making sure your kids stay active and healthy means getting away from the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality and rather modelling the healthy habits you want to see in your children, in yourself. After all, if you don’t prioritise it, why would they? So get out there, get active, build memories and feel healthier – together.