As an active parent, instilling a love for exercise and a healthy lifestyle in your children is probably extremely important to you. An active parent, during both pregnancy and childhood, can result in a more active child. But, like anything related to parenting, we know that teaching your child how to be healthy is not that simple. Ensuring that your child grows up with an active lifestyle often means proactively teaching good habits and discouraging bad ones.
The younger your children are when you start teaching healthy habits, the better. Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dry approach to raising active, healthy children in today’s world. So how do you encourage a healthy lifestyle for your children now and into adulthood? And how do you build healthy habits early on before it’s too late?
How Active Are Today’s Children?
The World Health Organization recommends at least 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity for school-aged children. While 60 minutes is the minimum recommended amount, additional time spent exercising offers even more health benefits. For intense exercises meant to strengthen the muscles, bones, and joints, the World Health Organization recommends incorporating these activities three times per week.
While U.S. children are more active than they were in 2016, their activity levels are still far below satisfactory. In 2018, only 24 percent of U.S. school-aged children participated in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. And this phenomenon isn’t just found in the United States. Children across the United Kingdom also show lower activity levels than ever before. Only 25 percent of young boys get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and only 20 percent of young girls get the recommended 60 minutes of activity.
While some children may have health concerns or special needs that limit their physical activity, make accommodations whenever possible. If you have questions about your child’s abilities or concerns about their safety during physical activity, speak with their doctor.
Why Is Physical Activity so Important for Your Child?
One of the more obvious benefits of adequate childhood activity is better physical health. Physical activity can increase your child’s muscle mass, help them maintain proper body weight, strengthen their bones, and much more. Regular exercise can also help maintain your child’s emotional well-being.
As an active parent, you might not think much about the long-term health benefits that come along with an active lifestyle. For some families, physical activities are just a part of day-to-day life. But ensuring that your child gets the right amount of exercise per day could potentially keep countless serious health concerns at bay. Regular physical activity can help manage Type-1 diabetes in some children. Exercise can also help prevent the development of Type-2 diabetes and obesity.
By providing your child with healthy habits in childhood, you also provide them with the tools for a healthy adulthood. Many studies have shown connections between a child’s early activity levels and their health as an adult. Teaching a healthy lifestyle and encouraging ample physical activity at a young age can help instill good habits throughout adolescence and beyond.
Of course, physical activity is not a cure-all for your child’s medical condition. But with the help of an active parent and the guidance of a medical doctor, exercise can be a crucial part of managing or preventing issues with your child’s health.
Our Top 10 Tips for Raising an Active Child
As an active parent, teaching your child how to live a healthy life might seem simple. But even the most active families can struggle to teach good habits to their young children.
To help make your job as a parent just a little bit easier, we’ve collected the top tips for raising an active, healthy child. The tips should help you whether you’re already a physically active parent or are overhauling your family’s lifestyle from scratch. With a little time and effort, you can provide your child with the skills necessary to live life in a healthy, active way.
1. Set a positive example
Choosing a healthy lifestyle is hard enough without considering what your child is seeing and learning from you. But if you’re devoted to being an active parent and teaching your child how to live a healthy life, it is absolutely worth the effort.
If you already consider yourself an active parent, then you might be tempted to check this tip off your list right away. However, it’s important to evaluate your lifestyle choices and how your child might be interpreting them. Maybe you visit the gym every day after work, but your child doesn’t see you working out. Or perhaps you eat a salad every day for lunch, but instead, your child sees you eating ice cream after dinner.
How you speak can also play a major role in your child’s relationship to exercise and healthy living. Comments about loving vegetables or hating exercise might seem innocuous to an adult, but these statements can subtly shape your child’s habits in good or bad ways. Being aware of your words and actions around nutrition and exercise can make all the difference in teaching your child healthy habits down the road.
2. Understand your child’s fitness personality
Taking the time to identify and understand your child’s relationship with physical activities can be extremely helpful. While there isn’t a standardized list of fitness personality types, most children are grouped into non-athletic, casually athletic, or athletic. These categories help very loosely define your child’s aptitude for exercise, sports, and other physical activities.
If you know that your child falls in the non-athletic group, then the largest struggle is encouraging them to choose physical activities over sedentary ones. But if your child is in the casually athletic group, your primary struggle is finding activities that they enjoy. If you aren’t an active parent yourself, then raising an athletic child can be overwhelming and exhausting at times. Parents of athletic children often struggle to accommodate their children’s energy levels and keep them occupied.
Again, these groups are very loosely defined and are only a general guide for your child.
3. Encourage healthy sleep habits
Your child’s sleeping habits can play a major role in their day-to-day performance. Lack of adequate sleep can slow progress in school and cause your child’s grades to drop. Insufficient sleep can also cause emotional outbursts, trouble focusing, and other symptoms that you might mistake as a moody child.
Obviously, a tired child will not have the energy or motivation to engage in physical activity. If you are a naturally active parent, you might notice something is wrong with your child’s energy levels right away. But some children can go months, or even years, with undiagnosed sleep disorders or insufficient sleep schedules. Even if your child does not suffer from a sleep disorder, following a strict bedtime and morning routine can do wonders for their energy levels and emotional health.
4. Schedule family activities around exercise
One of the best ways to encourage exercise in your child’s life is to make it feel like playtime. When scheduling family activities, prioritize those that include physical activities that are fun and enjoyable for everyone. That will get your whole family up and moving, whether your partner is also an active parent or not.
Some great examples that incorporate exercise include hiking, playing at a park, walking around a zoo, and more. By introducing your child to physical activities that don’t feel like exercise, you can teach them how to live a balanced and healthy life with ease.
5. Teach proper nutrition and hydration
Every physically active parent knows that what you consume in the kitchen is just as important as the work you put in at the gym. The same is true for your children. If your child lacks proper nutrition or doesn’t drink enough water for their activity level, they can quickly become tired and burnt out.
Whether you’re fortunate enough to eat several meals a week together or not, healthy eating can benefit your entire family. If you’re a physically active parent, whether you run, play a sport, or hit the gym, you probably feel pretty confident in your nutrition. But you’re probably not getting 100-percent of the nutrients that you need. Assessing your family’s diet is a great way to teach your child about nutrition. And you can use this opportunity to involve them in the meal planning and cooking process from a young age.
6. Swap screen time for physical play
Video games aren’t all bad. Studies show that time spent in front of a screen can improve your child’s literacy skills and working memory. But every hour spent watching television, playing a game, or browsing the Internet is an hour spent not moving. While this might not seem like much at home, remember that most of their time at school is also sedentary. That can add up to hours of sedentary time by the end of your child’s weekday.
However, not all screen time equals being completely sedentary. With the popularity of the Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect, and VR headsets, many video games now require the user to stand, jump, swing, and more. These games aren’t a replacement for more intense activity but can be a great compromise between you and your child.
If you’re concerned about the amount of time your child is spending in front of a screen, providing other stimulating activities is a great way to get them active. You might also consider installing timers or other parental controls on your family’s devices.
7. Foster an interest in sports
For children who need a more organized form of physical activity, sports can be a great option. As a parent, you might instantly think of team sports like softball, baseball, and soccer. While these can be great social activities, they are certainly not the only option. Dance, gymnastics, golf, and swimming are all excellent structured activities for young boys and girls.
If you’re an active parent who participates in sports yourself, you might want to introduce your child to the same activity. Sharing a sport with your child can be a great way to bond and spend extra quality time together. Whichever sports you introduce your child to, it’s important that you allow them a say in their participation.
8. Build small healthy habits
Opting to climb the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to the store instead of driving might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But encouraging these small habits in your child can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices down the line.
If you’re an active parent, you probably engage in more of these healthy habits than you realize. But if you want to improve your own daily activity levels, working to incorporate these habits with your child is a great way to do so.
9. Make time for outdoor activities
Sometimes, all a child needs is a little fresh air. You might be fortunate enough to have a large yard, but if not you can make time to travel to local parks and nature centers as a family. When allowed to play outside, most children are driven to run, climb, and naturally engage in other aerobic activities.
Aside from offering a change of scenery, providing substantial outdoor time for your child has many benefits. Playing outside offers unique opportunities to socialize with other children. Time outdoors also offers a variety of learning opportunities when it comes to plants, animals, and the world around us. Some research even suggests that outdoor play offers more mental stimulation than spending time indoors.
10. Work on improving your child’s physical skills
When it comes to being an active parent, improving your physical abilities is probably one of your main goals. Yet parents often overlook this factor when it comes to teaching children to enjoy exercise.
Encouraging your child to be their own competition is a great way to motivate them toward a productive goal. Whether they want to run faster, climb higher, or dive deeper, you can help your child safely work toward improving their physical capabilities. Plus, the freedom to define their own goals can teach an excellent set of life skills.
Raising Healthy Children as an Active Parent
As an active parent, you might be tempted to take your healthy lifestyle for granted. It’s true that having an active parent means a child is more likely to live their own healthy lifestyle. But you must also remember that these habits are learned. By teaching your child how to care for themselves from an early age, you can set them up for a healthy, successful adult life.
It’s also important to note that children’s activity levels often decrease as they age. In fact, the average U.K. child’s activity levels begin to drop at just seven years old. Encouraging sufficient activity levels throughout your child’s preteen and teenage years will help ensure they maintain these habits in adulthood. While you can’t teach your child everything, you can encourage them how to live a long and healthy life.