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Fighting Childhood Obesity with Play

Date Published: Mar, 05 2014

According to the CDC, Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years while only about 29 percent of high school students exercise 60 minutes or more each day. As Americans turn more and more to indoor entertainment and recreation, children are paying the price. Establishing healthy play and sleep habits during childhood have lifelong benefits, but require dedicated parents, teachers and communities.To celebrate American Heart Month, we're focusing on fitness activities for all ages.

Get Outside and Stay There!

You can't run inside! Parents are understandably reluctant to let children play unsupervised outdoors, but not making time to supervise outdoor play is not a solution. Schedule time to be outside as a family and don't skip it! If you can't make time daily to monitor outdoor play yourself, consider forming a playgroup with other parents in your community. Although having your child join a sports team has many benefits, it can't  replace regular, unstructured free play. Making extra time for student athletes may even reduce the risk of repetitive motion and overuse injuries by strengthening the muscles they don't use during practice.

Be a Play-maker

It's extremely tempting to sit back and answer emails while your child plays, but don't be afraid to get the ball rolling yourself! Bring a ball, Frisbee or other toy and try to scout out parks with an active playground community ahead of time. Start a game of catch, kickball or any active ball game to get the fun going! As a parent you can encourage your children to make the most of the play equipment. Challenge children to beat their best time on the monkey bars, or have a race across the fitness circuit. Once the kids are playing, feel free to take a step back and let them take over.

 Make Exercise a Priority

Leading by example is the best way to encourage your family to be active. If you're not in great shape be sure to talk your doctor and set realistic fitness goals for yourself before you cut loose on any exercise plan. Turn cleaning into a silly song and dance marathon, make yard work family time and plan  a simple evening walk together or other gentle exercises. These will not only get your family moving but will bring you closer together. Teach each other your favorite games like hopscotch and freeze tag and get playing. It takes about 10,000 hours to master any skill, so consider setting a big goal and working towards it together.  You could become hula hoop masters, learn to pop an ollie on a skateboard or make it your goal to master Double Dutch together.

 Work with other Caregivers

Want to include more fitness in your classroom or daycare? Whether you're a teacher or parent, don't be afraid to become a leader! Talk about ways you can help normalize physical activity. Regular breaks in learning that encourage movement help improve focus, retention and serve as a natural mood elevator.  Why not hop to the lunch room or take the scenic route to computer class? Adding a little more activity into daily routines can make a big difference.

 Get Enough Rest

It goes without saying that sleep is important to healthy growth and development, however, it's not always a top priority. In recent years,  a growing body of research has linked sleep deprivation to higher body mass. Unfortunately, children are almost as likely as adults to go without adequate sleep.  This may result in fatigue and lethargy, which may make it harder to get your kids off the couch. To help them get enough sleep, set and stick to a bedtime, create a healthy sleep routine and turn off television and computer screens at least an hour before bedtime.

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