How to get your kids moving this summer

UAB experts share tips on making physical activity fun this summer.

For many kids, summer means sleeping late, pigging out and sitting in front of the TV. Adding physical activity to kids’ summer routines helps battle obesity and improves their concentration, memory and behavior, according to University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) experts.

nycu_playground_sSandra Sims, Ph.D., and Donna Hester, Ph.D., physical education experts and associate professors in the Department of Human Studies teamed up to share tips to help parents encourage children and adolescents to achieve the 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Want your kid to be active, get active yourself – “Parents are great role models for their children,” said Sims. “A physically active parent is a great example that often leads to children who follow this lead.”

Parents should make physical activity part of the families’ daily practices, she said.

Walking and biking are examples of great aerobic activities that can be done together.”

Get out in the backyard, yours and your city’s – Explore your backyard with games and/or good old fashioned unstructured play. Sims recommends trying the free, online geocaching treasure hunt game. You can check it out at www.geocaching.com.

Also, use this time of year to explore your city’s outdoor attractions. Sims suggests hiking in state parks, biking along trails and exploring the zoo.

“And, while you’re out, make sure your little ones consume plenty of water or low-sugar beverages for hydration,” Sims said. “And wear sunscreen for protection.”

Play with a goal in mind – Hester suggested planning some type of activity that works on muscular strength, using your child’s own body weight, at least three days a week.

“Younger children enjoy climbing on playground equipment or pretending to move like various animals,” she said. “Older children are capable of standard exercises such as pushups and crunches.  To keep them motivated, see how many they can do in a minute, and then gradually increase the repetitions over the summer.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 12,000 steps per day for children and adolescents, so Hester suggests getting pedometers for the entire family and creating a chart to post daily steps.

Do not just splash around, try water play with purpose – Taking a dip in the pool could turn into a variety of fun and beneficial exercises.

“Many exercises that children can do on land can be done in the water,” Sims said. “You can walk or jog, do jumping jacks, slide, skip or hop. You can also play team sports like volleyball, basketball and polo.

Get your gamer motivated – Mastering a video game is fun, but does not give you the daily physical activity your body needs. Hester encourages activities that make you stand instead of sit.

“The activities on the Wii can be a good rainy day alternative, but playing the actual game is better,” she said. 

Many sports video games are somewhat sedentary in nature.

“Set some time limits for your gamer,” Hester said. “And, if your kids like to play interactive dance and fitness video games, adjust the setting to the level that will achieve the greatest amount of body movement.”

To structure or not – Play does not always have to be structured, according to Sims.

    “Unstructured play has great value,” she said. “This allows children to pursue creativity in their play.”

    Summer is a great time for this.

    “Some children have been limited to playing games with rules either on a team or on a video game,” Sims said. “Allowing children freedom to choose activities and rules not only allows creativity, but it also increases enjoyment of play.”

    Fun is the key word – Sims and Hester agree that helping children find a physical activity that they enjoy is important.

    “All children are not competitive, so only providing competitive sports choices is not the answer,” Sims said. “Let children explore numerous types of physical activities, so they can find one or more activities in which they can participate and enjoy doing.”

    For more information, Sims and Hester recommend going to the CDC website for National Physical Activity Guidelines

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