My Top Tips for Exercising with Kids

For those of you that may be thinking of exercising with your kids but don’t know where to start, this is a post for you.  As I have mentioned here and here, kids can struggle to meet the minimum requirements for physical activity as recommended by the American Council of Sports Medicine (ACSM), especially as they head toward their teen years.  Current guidelines are as follows:

  • Children and adolescents should accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity daily as part of transportation, physical education, sport, free play and planned exercise. The activities should be a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity. Moderate intensity is defined as activity that increases breathing, sweating, and heart rate and vigorous intensity substantially increases breathing, sweating, and heart rate.
  • Sedentary activity is a strong contributor to overweight and low physical fitness. Sedentary activities such as television viewing, computer and telephone use, and inactive video games should be limited to < 2 hours per day.

While my kids are pretty active, I know I can be guilty of leaving them on technology for >2 hours per day especially on weekends.  Progress not perfection.  I believe that the first part of the equation is teaching our children to value and enjoy exercise and this is one of the most beneficial things that we can do as a parent, coach or trainer.  Here are my top tips for exercising with children.

  1.  Monkey See Monkey Do – Exercise in front of them.

We can try and teach our kids healthy habits in many ways but at the end of the day they will be watching and learning from the habits of those closest to them. Typically, most of us will head off to the gym or out the door for a run or ride on our own and sometimes the kids don’t get to see us actually exercise.  Trust me, I am all for a bit of time out while exercising but I also think it is important for them to see us huffing and puffing, sweating, and finding it difficult too.  This may mean taking them to the park and doing your workout while they play, taking them for a jog/walk in the pram, letting them scoot or ride beside you while you run, using attachments for bikes to take them along for a ride, or simply putting on a fitness DVD at home while they play.  More often then not I bet they join in.

2.  Variety is the Spice of Life

Mix it up, keep them interested.  Exercise doesn’t always have to mean running 4km, doing lap after lap in the pool, or just training with your sporting teams.  Although all of these activities definitely have a place, participating in a range of different movements has many benefits for kids.  These can include reducing the risk of overuse injuries and providing opportunity to develop a large range of movement skills, therefore increasing their confidence and the likelihood that they will continue to exercise long into the future.  Research shows that children who do not develop these
skills early in life may be less likely to meet or exceed recommendations for daily physical
activity later in life.  So get busy moving with your little ones.  Check out my earlier post on 7 Ways to get the Kids Active and Outdoors for some inspiration, or if you are stuck indoors (because it is nearly 50 degrees celsius outside as in Pannawonica at the moment), one of my children’s favourite games is ‘Just Dance’.  I have attached a YouTube link so you can see what’s involved but you can follow this link to purchase, it even comes as a smart phone app.  Just quietly, it is hilarious watching your kids playing when they don’t know you are looking.  I love it because they drop the ‘too cool’ facade and just boogie!!

You got up and gave it a go didn’t you??  Go on admit it….

3.  Watch out for Overheating

Be mindful that children have a large surface area of skin when compared to their little bodies, as such they are more exposed to heat and are also less efficient at cooling the body down when it does heat up.  Basically, this means try to avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day, make sure they keep up the fluid intake not just during exercise but also in the lead up to physical activity, they will need more frequent breaks when it is hot, and keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of overheating.  You can read more about it here.

4.  Exercise as a Family – What is good for one is good for all…

Some of our favourite moments have come from being active as a family.

Just get out there and be active.

5.  Strength Training is OK

There is a lot of misconception surrounding strength training and kids but the research supports that it is safe and beneficial when performed correctly.  I found a great article that busts common myths and misconceptions surrounding children and strength training and you can check it out at this link.  My recommendations for introducing kids to strength training are as follows:

  • For the most part, body weight exercises are the perfect introduction to strength training and with all the variations you should be entertained for a long while.
  • Don’t expect perfect technique straight up, it takes time and repetition to develop new skills.  I find that I give them the basics and try not to pick at them the whole session.  As long as they are not unsafe I will cut them a bit of slack, especially in the first few sessions of a new program.
  • Stay with the same program for at least 4-6 weeks.
  • If at all unsure pay for an Exercise Physiologist or qualified health professional to design a program for your family.  You can have peace of mind from anywhere between $60-$120 depending on who you approach.  You may even be able to claim these sessions back through health insurance.
  • Technique, technique, technique.  Children need to master good technique and good body awareness before they even start thinking about introducing weights.
  • Should you decide to introduce weights to a program keep it simple.  Make sure you are very confident in the person instructing your children and the focus must always be on good technique.

Surprisingly kids love boot camp sessions.  We have recently started family boot camp sessions and apart from a couple of spots of whinging here and there, my kids are more than happy to work out .  I think they also know not to waste time trying to get out of it as it doesn’t work with me!  We keep these sessions short and sharp, usually all finished in 30 minutes from start to finish.  Crank out some great tunes and happy days!

6.  It does not always have to be fun.

Shock, horror, I know.  Nearly every article I read is about making sure exercise is fun for kids, blah, blah, blah.  It does have to be enjoyable but that is not where our jobs stop.  I think that if we set kids up with the expectation that exercise and physical activity is always fun I believe we are setting them up for failure.  Instead we should be encouraging them to find the satisfaction and joy in completing something difficult and teaching them how to deal with situations when the going gets tough.

Not everyone will agree with me and that’s OK. Not everyone will understand why I do crazy things such as 4km fun runs with my kids (and expect them to actually try and run it all) or complete boot camp sessions as a family and I am OK with that too.  For me it is simple, how can I possibly ignore four years of university training, nearly 15 years of working in the health industry, a multitude of research articles and my own experience with exercise, when it tells me that staying active is one definite way to increase our chances of living a full and healthy life.  Time will tell, but I am enjoying the journey in the meantime!

 

 

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