As the activities of summer wind down and we settle into our school year routine it’s important to keep physical activity a part of our daily regimen.  So frequently we blame busy schedules on the unhealthy habits we develop.  Children will be more successful in school if they have regular physical activity each day.

Did you know that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity daily?  Only 1/3 actually get that amount.  The average 18 year old spends 7.5 hours a day on entertainment media which includes TV, phones, computers, video games and tablets.  As parents we are faced with the challenge of raising healthy children.  The habits our children are taught will carry into their adult life, so establishing healthy physical activity at a young age will have lifelong benefits.

Why do we need physical activity?  It has been shown that regular physical activity can decrease blood pressure, have a positive effect on cholesterol, decrease the risk of diabetes, improve mental well being, and even reduce the risk of some cancers.

How do we help our children accomplish this goal?  It is possible to get children moving even if they are not interested in athletics.  Limiting time spent on electronics is a good start to getting your child to become more active.  When we decrease a child’s media time they become more active.  We need to make physical activity fun.  Children should be encouraged to find activities they enjoy.  As parents, we can set an example by staying active and participating with them.  Going for a walk in the park and allowing them to collect things for a collage along the way is a good distraction.  Shooting hoops and playing a game of “horse” with your kids is a good way to get moving and allows for time to talk with your children.   Many children love to ride bikes and this provides a great source of exercise.  Be sure they wear a helmet!  Children enjoy the new electronic devices that count steps.  They should be logging between 11,000 and 13,000 steps a day and many will have a positive response to this type of electronic feedback.

The cooler fall weather and the structure that accompanies the beginning of the school year makes planning outdoor activities easier.  Incorporating more physical activity into our children’s lives so that it becomes a habit will improve their physical and emotional health.  Leading by example will have the additional benefit of getting you in better shape too, and who doesn’t want that?

— Cristina Graves, M.D. FAAP

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