Parental Guide to Creating a Healthy Approach to Fitness and Nutrition; Avoiding Toxic Diet Culture
Part 2: Promoting Exercise in Your Child's Life!
Last week I discussed the important role parents play in educating their child on nutrition. The hope is to combat toxic misinformation they are constantly exposed to online. These children may not receive all the information they need in school, but regardless there’s no better education than learning from those around you. Today I will go over approaching fitness with your children in a fun and enjoyable way. If a child can learn at a young age that being healthier and getting exercise can be fun, they are less likely to develop a negative relationship with exercise as an adult.
Upon researching the specifics of how schools approach this topic, I found it quite difficult to figure out the exact regulations in regards to educating and enforcing physical education for students. While there are general guidelines to the recommended amount of physical activity a child should receive, it’s not clear how much actual activity a child will get in school. There are many factors that play into this including: age of student, length of class periods, weather, school regulations for recess periods, child cooperation, and many more. Keep in mind that in order to find out the specifics of your child’s school, you will probably need to contact them directly.
One quote really stood out to me was, “Parents or guardians have the primary responsibility for providing appropriate health care for their children.” (1) While this applies to the general healthcare of a child, and disease management, it also applies to the physical activity of a child. Most parents believe their child gets all the activity they need while in school, but they do not.
Now the CDC and Institute of Medicine make it clear that children need at least 60 minutes of activity a day. This activity should be moderate to vigorous activity that gets the child’s heart rate rising to promote heart health. (2) It’s also recommended that children have some sort of strength building exercise as well, such as tug-of-rope to promote muscle growth. With class schedules, though, it’s impossible to get all of this accomplished during the school day. USA Today reported that elementary schools get at least 30 minutes of exercise and middle to high schoolers get 45. (3)
This 30-45 minutes is essentially a class period for P.E. It does not always include time spent changing into workout clothes, and keep in mind that P.E. also includes instruction about health and wellness, so many days are spent learning in a classroom. You may be thinking, “Why can’t schools adjust periods so my child gets more movement?” Unfortunately, schools have to balance both academic and physical health of their students, and over the years time spent in P.E. has been reduced in quite a few schools. This has been to allow more class time and a better chance for academic success. This is a big reason why schools offer clubs and team sports. Schools expect that parents are promoting movement before or after schools for around 30 minutes, and at least an hour on weekends. While adding something additional, to what is already probably a busy schedule, may sound overwhelming, it’s much easier than you think. My top tips are below!
1) Walk to and from school.
If possible, walk your child or have them walk to school. Not only is this great for the environment, but also can add a lot of movement into the day. Getting the blood pumping early in the morning also leads to more mental focus in school. Obviously, not everyone lives close enough or has a clear path to do this, but it’s a fantastic option if you can!
2) Join team or club sports
Joining a sports team or an active club is fantastic for keeping your child moving. There are so many options at most schools that are before or after school, or you can look at other local options if you want something for the weekend. Maybe your child isn’t interested in sports, but would like boy scouts or girl scouts. Both are very active organizations. Regardless of what your child’s interest is, joining groups will lead to a more active lifestyle and cut down on time on technology. For busy parents, just research around you, you will most certainly find something that fits into your schedule. Don’t forget carpooling is also great for those with a hectic lifestyle, and reduce some of the strain on time.
3) Turn studying into an active game or promote quick study breaks as time to go outside and get in movement.
This also allows for added mental focus when coming back inside. Even if they just get a 3 minute break to run and play, these breaks add up! There are so many great games out there too that can incorporate learning! One that I love is math hopscotch, where your child will be given a math problem to solve and hopscotch to the correct answer. Yes studying can be boring, but turning boring things into a game, will lead to more activity while promoting learning. Can’t do any better than that!
4) Take a family walk, bike, roller blade etc. to discuss the day
Maybe it’s after dinner or as soon as everyone is home, but take that time you would have spent on the couch catching up from the day, to go for a walk or some activity. Even if it’s only 20-30 minutes, your child will get in the rest of the recommended amount of movement they need in the day, and without the distraction of technology, you can have some quality family time.
5) Active chores like mowing the yard
We often forget that chores are exercise too! Things like mowing the yard are actually a strength building exercise. By spreading out chores throughout the week, you can ensure your child gets a few extra minutes of activity while learning some responsibility too!
6) Promote time outside and off technology
No one can deny the prevalence of technology in our lives. Most children now have cell phones to keep in contact with parents, but a lot of children use technology as their main source of entertainment. Set aside time where the phone, tv, and tablets go away. Without these items, kids are more likely to go outside and play, where they can climb trees and be active. There’s no better recipe for an active child than them trying to figure out what to do with their time outside.
7) Family game days.
Did you know that playing games of soccer, volleyball, football promote bone health with your child? Things like jumping rope and playing hopscotch build bone health too and are fun activities for your family!
8) Set an example!
Children learn from you and the example you set. If you enjoy and make movement a priority, they will want to!
9) Provide activities for “hang outs” with friends that keep them moving and promote being outside
While a lot of kids will just want to stay inside and watch tv or movies, having items like jump ropes, a basketball hoop, athletic balls etc., may inspire them to get outside. Sometimes you just have to say “go outside and play,” but the hope is that children make the decision, on their own, to get outside and move!
10) Mini vacations or days away that promote activity.
Activities like hiking to new places, swimming at the beach, etc. are great opportunities to get in movement while exploring new places.
At the end of the day, movement is so important, but the approach is key. So try these tips out and see what works best for your unique family. Physical health is not a one-size-fits-all thing, we all like different activities. Find what you enjoy and brings happiness to the family. Fitness should never be draining, it should make days better! Next week I'll be discussing the role schools play in educating and fostering about mental health, and how you can help at home!
Until next time... and remember fitness is for all!
“Guidelines for Healthcare Procedures in Schools,” Virginia Department of Health, 2017 revision. Accessed April 4, 2021 https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/58/2016/12/VDH-Guidelines-for-Healthcare-Procedures-in-Schools_2017.pdf.
“The Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Adolescents,” CDC, Reported 2008. Accessed April 4, 2021 https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/toolkit/youth_pa_guidelines_schools.pdf.
Report: More PE, Activity Programs Needed in Schools,” USA Today, May 23, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2021 https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/05/23/physical-education-schools/2351763/.