When a child is overweight, both decreasing the number of calories consumed, especially those from sweetened beverages, desserts and junk food, and increasing physical activity are crucial. Here are some tips from the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Clinic at UCSF Children's Hospital on how to help your child exercise.
Teach children why exercise matters. Exercise has many benefits. Not only does regular exercise help keep weight under control, but it also:
- Reduces the risk of heart disease, improving blood cholesterol levels and preventing or managing high blood pressure
- Lowers the risk of diabetes
- Increases bone strength
- Boosts energy levels
- Helps manage stress
- Improves the ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well
- Increases muscles strength, improving one's ability to do other physical activities
- Improves self-image and overall sense of well-being
- Establishes good heart-healthy habits for life
Define a goal. Once a child understands why exercise is important, help him or her define an attainable goal. The goal needs to fit with the child's physical ability and activity preferences. If your child is new to exercise, make sure that he or she starts slowly.
Make a realistic commitment of time and be consistent. Keep track of your child's efforts, or have him or her keep an exercise journal. Charts are another great way to get your child involved tracking his or her progress.
Seek balance and make sure to stretch. While all activities that get the body moving are good, working all of the major muscles -- including the legs, abdominals, chest, back, shoulders and arms -- is crucial for total body fitness. It's best to expose children to a variety of exercises and help them work their entire body. Also, a good, balanced exercise program should include stretching to promote flexibility and strength training to build muscle.
In addition to the tips above, it is important to remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Children and adults need to rest while exercising and listen to their bodies. Don't do anything that hurts. Take one to two days off between vigorous activity days or perform a less intense activity, such as walking instead of running or try yoga or pilates to get a good stretch.
While some people equate exercising with the gym, you don't have to be in a gym to be exercising. All movement is good, whether it's walking around the block, playing at the park or dancing around the house. To get more activity into your child's life, focus on what he or she enjoys. Dancing, skateboarding, hiking, riding a bike and other fun activities all count. If short on time, break the day's exercise into stages -- walking for 10 minutes, three times a day results in the same health benefits as walking for 30 minutes each day.
And remember, exercise is a great way to spend time with family and friends. Taking a walk together is a great time to talk. Playing in the park is a wonderful way for the family to spend a Saturday afternoon. Be creative, be consistent and make sure everyone is having fun.
Walk While Watching
Another approach, which can be used in conjunction with the ideas above, recognizes that children are watching an increasing amount of television, often in place of more-physical activities.
Get a treadmill and set it up in front of the television, but not in the child's room. With this approach the child can watch as much television as he or she wants, but only while walking on the treadmill. If they get tired of walking, they need to turn off the television.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Children's Hospital.
Last updated May 8, 2007
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2002 - 2009 The Regents of the University of California
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