Last month we issued a challenge: Get your kids moving! Active children are happier, healthier -- even smarter -- but it's no small feat convincing kids to turn off the DSi and head to the playground instead. We began our three-month get-fit series with a quiz to assess how strong and healthy your child already is. This month, you'll find ideas for exactly how to help your kiddo -- and the whole family -- improve his strength, endurance, and flexibility. Best of all, it's cool stuff even the most die-hard couch potato will love doing. So go to it!
3 Steps to a Stronger, Fitter, Healthier Kid:
Step 1: Make it fun!
"The absolute best way to encourage kids to be physically active is not only to set an example yourself but to find ways to make it enjoyable so it doesn't feel like work," says Julie Stefko, project manager for Fitnessgram/NFL Play 60, a program developed by the Cooper Institute in Dallas that assesses fitness levels and promotes physical activity in school-age kids. "As adults, we feel the same way about working out: If we don't like it, we're not going to do it." Find sports, games, and activities your kid likes -- bike-riding, skateboarding, tag, dancing, fencing, whatever -- and before long you'll have to pry her sneakers off at the end of the day. If it's something you can do together, even better!
Step 2: Boost stamina
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on all or most days of the week. Several studies, however, have found that children get only half that much -- or less. (And don't count on your kid getting it later on in PE. A Cornell University study found that high-schoolers are active for only 16 minutes during gym class.) Muscle-strengthening moves count toward the daily quota, "but most of the activity should be heart-pumping cardio, like running around the playground or playing soccer," says Stefko. The good news: Your kids don't have to do it all at once. Small, manageable chunks of exercise throughout the day add up.
Step 3: Build strength
When kids build muscle, they build bone -- and this is the time in their lives when bone develops most rapidly and easily. So take advantage. "Effective strength exercises for kids are those that use their own body weight as resistance, although adolescents can start to use dumbbells and machines," says Stefko. Try the kid-friendly moves on the next page. And get involved! Do the exercises with them and work together to meet goals. It's likely you won't get through the whole alphabet the first time you try the "Alphabet Plank," for example. But eventually, you may be able to go through it twice. "Children really respond to challenges and the positive reinforcement you give them afterward," says Stefko.