The average 19-year-old is just as sedentary as a 60-year-old adult. Let that sink in for a second.
The findings, out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reveal that physical activity levels among U.S. kids and teens are much lower than previously thought. And they’re a far cry from meeting current recommended activity guidelines.
For instance, the World Health Organization recommends that children ages 5 to 17 perform at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day; the study found that more than 25 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls ages 6 through 11 didn’t hit the mark. Neither did more than 50 percent and 75 percent of male and female teens, respectively.
Meanwhile, rates of childhood obesity and early-onset Type 2 diabetes are on the rise. Currently, 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are classified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Diabetes Association estimates that by 2050, 1 in 3 people will have Type 2 diabetes.
“Less active kids are more likely to be less active adults,” explains Pennsylvania-based family medicine physician Dr. Rob Danoff. “Healthy living is a lifestyle that’s developed and ingrained. To encourage your children to grow into healthy adults, you have to prioritize activity early on.”
So how do you do that – especially when your kid has his or her eyes glued to a tablet screen? Here are five strategies that will help make things easier – and a whole lot healthier.
1. Lead by example. You know that whole “do what I say, not what I do” thing? It doesn’t work. “The best successes I’ve seen in terms of increasing physical activity in children happens when the parents get involved and lead by example,” Danoff says. If you’re currently inactive – or less active than you’d like – consider telling your kids that you are going to work to incorporate more exercise in your lifestyle and explain why.
You can even invite them to go on a bike ride or walk in the park with you, or to accompany you to the gym. After all, more and more fitness franchises are making strides to help families exercise together. For instance, most Zumba classes welcome children as young as 10. Meanwhile, through its GirlForce initiative, Jazzercise offers unlimited free classes to girls ages 16 to 21 throughout 2017.
2. Make it fun. Exercise shouldn’t feel like a punishment to your kids, much less a punishment for his or her body type – if that’s a current health concern of yours. “Never say, ‘you need to exercise.’ Just say, ‘let’s have fun!'” says Danoff, noting that when it comes to forging a healthy relationship with exercise, attitude is key.
While there’s no end to the number of fun and fit activities out there – from playing basketball in the driveway to playing interactive, on-your-feet video games – the key is to approach fitness in a judgment-free way. You can now even find smartphone games such as Zombies, Run! that combine virtual missions and real-life exercise.
3. Dial down the competition. Organized sports can be a great way to get kids moving and learn valuable life skills. But according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70 percent of kids who play competitive sports call it quits by age 13. Their No. 1 reason: “It’s not fun anymore.”
To help keep your kid’s heart in the game, Danoff recommends that parents stop putting so much pressure on their kids to achieve through sports. “Don’t make it about the trophy or scholarship,” he says. “Let them have fun. Maybe they will excel. Maybe they won’t. But if they enjoy the sport, they will stick with it and continue to have fun.”
4. Consider adopting a pet. Go ahead, succumb to your kids’ pleas. Besides being a great opportunity to teach them responsibility, pet ownership can automatically boost their activity levels in a fun way. After all, dog owners rack up nearly twice as many daily stepsas non-dog owners, according to research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Make it your kids’ responsibility to walk the dog on the weekends, and schedule a post-dinner family walk each evening through the week. Don’t forget to encourage plenty of playtime.
5. Make play dates active. Nowadays, even kids run on busy schedules. “You see kids having less and less free time,” Danoff says. And as their calendars book up, it becomes increasingly important to make sure that parents keep playtime – and active playtime, at that – a priority.
If you have young children or toddlers, talk to other parents about scheduling play dates at the pool, signing your kids up for classes such as pre-K gymnastics and martial arts or just letting them play tag in the backyard. Be sensitive to your kids’ interests and friend circles when scheduling these activities to up the fun factor.