Last month, while discussing winter safety tips, I briefly mentioned the importance of regular exercise even in colder months.

This is a timely topic because of the large number of new year’s resolutions that have been made with sincere intentions, and are already broken.

Children 6 years of age and older should be physically active for at least an hour every day, but studies have shown that only about one-third of children do so. Exercise is essential to healthy living and weight control, and not surprisingly, the percentage of children who are overweight and obese has risen as children become less active. 

I see many children in the clinic whose sole source of exercise is from gym class, recess or walking to and from school. These activities are rarely enough to add up to 60 minutes of daily physical activity. High school sports can help provide more exercise, but most students are not participating in a sport year-round, so there is always a period when they become less active.

The approach to increasing physical activity in children should be customized for each child. Some children prefer organized sports, whether through a recreation league or through their schools. Other children have no interest in team sports, or may feel self-conscious about their abilities and want to avoid the risk of peer judgment. There are many other fun activities they can try even at a young age, such as playing on the playground, ice skating or roller skating, bowling, bike riding or running around and playing outside, regardless of the season. As children get older, this can transition to more structured exercise at home or the gym, with a mix of age-appropriate resistance and aerobic exercises.

Many kids complain to me that they don’t like the gym, they can’t afford to go to one or that they can’t exercise because “it’s not safe to be outside.” However, there are many ways to stay indoors and still be physically active. Almost every kid now has access to the internet through tablets, phones or computers. YouTube can be a great resource for finding workout videos for people of all ages. Most video game systems now make fitness or dancing games, which are a great solution for the video game lovers.

Regardless of the method of exercise, the most important thing is to encourage daily physical activity, and to improve fitness as a family. Parents who sit and watch TV all evening are going to have a much harder time encouraging their kids to exercise. Families that find ways to stay active together are more likely to sustain healthy lifestyles, creating a legacy of better health.

There are many good activities to try as a family – you can go on family bike rides, learn to ski or ice skate together, go to the pool or even find some active household chores to complete as a family, like raking leaves or shoveling snow. It’s very important for the whole family to find time every day to be active, no matter the time or place. By acting as role models and setting the precedent of consistent physical activity from a young age, we can help future generations establish healthy life practices.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma. 

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