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Blame it on cutbacks to physical education, on computer games, on standardized tests that eat away recess time—no matter where you point the finger, kids aren’t exercising. Experts say that today’s kids have less physical stamina than they did 10 years ago. A recent study conducted by Essex University’s Dr. Gavin Sandercock showed that while children have the same body mass as their counterparts in the 1990s, it’s made of more fat and less muscle. Kids today are twice as unlikely to be able to hold their own weight while hanging from wall bars, for example.
If you’re worried about your child becoming a couch potato, summer can be a great time to turn it all around. Lead by example and get in shape together! Here are some easy ways to get fit with kids of any age this summer.
With Your Toddler
All that pent-up energy of the “terrible twos” driving you crazy this summer? Learn to exercise with her! You could spend your money on any number of pricey “Mommy and Me” gym classes—or you could just improvise in your own backyard.
- Kids this age love imitation. Try “Simon Says” or a game that involves moving around like different animals.
- Turn on the radio or throw on your favorite kid-friendly mixtape and dance with your child.
- Take a trip to the neighborhood playground for some unstructured free play—just be sure you are up there climbing the monkey bars and swinging with your child, too! When fitness is fun, kids don’t even recognize it as exercise.
With Your Preschooler
A better sense of balance and boundless mobility makes exercise even more fun at this age level. In fact, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with an active preschooler. Activities that emphasize coordination are particularly good for preschoolers.
- Break out the jump rope and learn some silly rhymes to burn those calories away.
- Ball games like catch or soccer are appealing to young children who are just beginning to understand team sports.
- Especially for more strenuous activities, make it a point to do some quick warm-up stretches with your kids. Chances are, you’ll feel the burn more than your preschooler will the morning after!
With Your Elementary School Child
Experts say that school-age children should get at least one hour of physical activity per day. While these stints of activity can be split up, even finding the time for smaller sessions can be tricky if television and computers are vying for your kid’s attention this summer. The key for this age group is choice and diversity. Let kids choose the activity when possible instead of imposing adult ideas of fitness on them. No 7-year-old will want to give up Saturday morning cartoons for 20 minutes on the elliptical.
- Go on a family hike followed by an open-air picnic. Many hiking trails are graded according to difficulty. Pack lots of water and find one that’s appropriate for your family’s fitness level.
- Most elementary-age kids are eager to hit the pool, but prone to horseplay once they’re in the water. Turn a splash and spray session into family water volleyball or a game of Marco Polo instead.
- Bring P.E. home and indulge your kids in a game of dodgeball. The fun of trying to bombard you with the ball will outweigh the suspicions that it’s really exercise in disguise!