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!
With Your Preteen
Body-conscious preteens—especially those who are discovering cellphones and social networking at a younger age—can be notoriously reluctant when it comes time to exercise. Still, fitness is more important than ever as sedentary kids may pack on a few extra pounds during puberty. Exercising as a family affair may also be difficult at this stage when being “cool” doesn’t involve being seen in public with parents. Try for family activities that emphasize novelty.
- Indoor rock climbing can burn over 700 calories per hour, giving you and your preteen a full-body workout that just feels like an afternoon’s worth of adventure.
- Would your preteen rather go to the mall than exercise? Why not rollerblade there, if you live close enough, instead of taking the car? Alternately, if the mercury’s rising so much in your town that being outside is unbearable, cool off with some ice skating at your local ice rink.
- For a special treat, call around at local stables and hit the trail on horseback. Believe it or not, riding can be a toning workout in itself, especially for your calves, backside and thighs.
With Your Teen
Anyone who has undergone the “trauma” of freshman P.E. might associate exercise with sweaty locker rooms and school gym shorts, but reassure your kids that this doesn’t have to be the case.
- Zumba, aerobic dance to international music, is a growing trend in young adult fitness. Sign up for a class with your teen and salsa those summer pounds away.
- Make a run for it: Sign up together for a summer 5K or mile fun run in your area. Training together gives you the opportunity to talk with your child and work toward a common goal.
- Does your high schooler need a little four-legged encouragement to get fit? A study in this year’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that teen dog owners get more physical activity than non-dog owners, so this summer might be a good time to pick out a puppy.
When it comes to getting your child to exercise, being a fitness role model is important. Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away. Set goals and get fit as a family this summer to establish habits that will last a lifetime.