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Physical activity, a healthy diet and a good nights sleep are really important in keeping children fit and healthy. Avoiding soda pop and too much screen time are also important. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) nearly one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese—compared to just one in 20 in the 1980s. Here are some tips for keeping your child fit and healthy and for laying the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy living.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least one hour of physical activity per day for children. When you factor in active play, recess time, and gym class at school, one hour can go pretty fast. Physical activity can be as simple as playing outside. Older kids often enjoy group activities or team sports. Many local communities have a Parks and Recreation Department that organizes Youth Sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, and swimming.
Chores are great exercise. If they are moving, they are exercising. But no parent wants to have arguments about making the bed, picking up toys, or emptying the trash. Make those chores rewarding by offering an incentive—a fun outing or an allowance. If you have more than one child, make it a friendly competition. Whoever completes the most tasks gets the prize. To add another layer of motivation (and movement), play some fun music, and set a time limit based on when a song finishes playing. You’ll all be moving faster, and the work will be done sooner.
Tempting though they may be, rewards shouldn’t come in the form of candy or food. Instead, offer a fun reward that encourages physical activity—like a night at the ice-skating rink, picking the board game at the next family night, or a new toy. Kids like rewards, so use these incentives not only for chores but for grades and good behavior.
The television can be a great babysitter in a crunch, but it encourages you and your child to always turn on the tube to fill time. Time spent in front of the television and computer is inactive time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children limit their screen time to two hours per day. Instead, create a basket of activities—sidewalk chalk, puzzles, jump rope, scavenger hunts—that you can offer your child when you need just a few minutes to yourself. Another option: tell them to go outside and play!.
Verbally encouraging your children to be active only gets you so far. You need to be a good example and set the tone. If your child sees you crashing on the couch and channel surfing, he or she will want to do it too. Limit your TV and computer hours, and take your kids out for a bike ride or roller skate around the neighborhood. It’s good physical activity and great family-bonding time.
Children’s palates are constantly changing and evolving. What they didn’t like as toddlers may become their favorite food as teens. Reintroduce foods, especially fruits and vegetables, to encourage expanding their food tastes. You may even consider introducing a One-Bite Rule—you have to take one bite of everything, even if you think you won’t like it. You never know when it may be yummy. Everyone should try and eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Sitting down as a family to eat dinner also promotes healthy eating.
Soda is not a healthy drink for children or adults. It is full of sugar and can cause cavities and obesity. Diet soda is also not a healthy drink. Water is the best drink for you and your children. Everyone should drink six to eight glasses a day.
Setting goals and limits for your house is a great way to encourage behavior and structure a healthy environment; all it takes is effort and willingness. But don’t blame yourself if you offer a Snickers bar as a treat once in a while or if you let your kids watch an extra hour of TV one night. As long as you continue to promote healthy habits, the occasional indulgence is just fine.
Getting a good night sleep is highly important when it comes to staying fit. Children who get a good night’s sleep are much less likely to be overweight or obese, or have medical and behavior problems. Have a regular bedtime routine and stick to it. Encourage a good amount of sleep each night.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Jul 22, 2014: Monica Gross, M.D.
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