When a child is overweight, both decreasing the number of calories consumed, especially those from sweet beverages, desserts and junk food, and increasing physical activity are crucial. Here are some tips from UCSF's Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Clinic on how to help your child exercise.
- Talk about why exercise matters. Exercise has many benefits. In addition to helping control weight, it also does the following:
- Reduces your risk of heart disease, improving blood cholesterol levels and preventing or managing high blood pressure
- Lowers your risk of diabetes
- Increases bone strength
- Boosts energy levels
- Helps manage stress
- Improves your ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well
- Increases muscles' strength, improving your ability to do other physical activities
- Improves self-image and overall sense of well-being
- Establishes good heart-healthy habits for life
- Make it fun. It's easier for kids to stick with an activity they enjoy. Some children like the competition and structure of team sports, while others prefer swimming, riding a bike or taking a dance class. Expose your kids to a variety of activities and let them tell you what they want to do.
- Define a goal. Set an attainable goal to keep your child motivated. The goal needs to fit with your child's physical ability and activity preferences. If your child is new to exercise, make sure that he or she starts slowly. You can celebrate achieving a goal with a non-food reward, such as seeing a movie or having a friend spend the night.
- Make a realistic commitment of time and be consistent. Keep track of your child's efforts, or have him or her keep an exercise journal. Charts are another great way to get your child involved in tracking his or her progress.
- Seek balance and make sure to stretch. While all activities that get the body moving are good, working all of the major muscles — including the legs, abdominals, chest, back, shoulders and arms — is crucial for total body fitness. It's best to expose children to a variety of exercises and help them work the entire body. Also, a good, balanced exercise program should include stretching to promote flexibility and strength training to build muscle.
- Be active together. When families exercise together, kids are more likely to exercise regularly. Make it a family affair and go for a walk after dinner, a bike ride on the weekend or dance around the living room to your favorite tunes. Volunteer to help your children's sports teams and recreation programs.
In addition to the tips above, it is important to remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Children and adults need to rest while exercising and listen to their bodies. Don't do anything that hurts. Take one to two days off between vigorous activity days or perform a less intense activity, such as walking instead of running, or try yoga or Pilates to get a good stretch.
While some people equate exercising with the gym, you don't have to be in a gym to be exercising. All movement is good, whether it's walking around the block, playing at the park or dancing around the house. To get more activity into your child's life, focus on what he or she enjoys. Dancing, skateboarding, hiking, riding a bike and other fun activities all count. If short on time, break the day's exercise into stages. Walking for 10 minutes three times a day results in the same health benefits as walking for 30 minutes each day.
And remember, exercise is a great way to spend time with family and friends. Taking a walk together is a great time to talk. Playing in the park is a wonderful way for the family to spend a Saturday afternoon. Be creative, be consistent and make sure everyone is having fun.
Walk While Watching
Another approach, which can be used in conjunction with the ideas above, recognizes that children are watching an increasing amount of television, often in place of more physical activities.
Get a treadmill and set it up in front of the television, but not in the child's room. With this approach the child can watch as much television as he or she wants, but only while walking on the treadmill. If they get tired of walking, they need to turn off the television.
Keep in mind that children older than 2 should spend no more than one to two hours a day watching television, playing video games and using the computer. (Children under 2 years of age should not watch any television.) Studies have shown that limiting television is an important part of helping children lose weight and be more active. It's also crucial to not eat in front of the television.