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Get Your Kid Off the Couch!

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Pediatrician Dr. Cara's tips for motivating kids to exercise and get fit.

Inspiring kids to exercise is no small feat. I think the very best approach is to empower them, emphasizing that this is about health rather than looks, and that they are developing habits that will last a lifetime.

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KIDS:
Young children tend to get more exercise than their older peers. This is because most of what they do in their free time involves running around and being physical.

Limit TV time and restrict access to computers for your school-aged kids.
If you do this, your kids are less likely to sit and more likely to move.

Label exercise.
Point out that by running around and playing, your child is getting the exercise she needs. If you start emphasizing this concept at a young age, your child will learn that exercise doesn't need to be a chore.

PRE-TEENS:
Kids in this age group go one of two ways. A small group become local elite athletes--in organized sports, these kids play for the school team or the club team; in non-organized sports (like dance, for instance), they begin to practice several times per week and perform more often. The majority of pre-teens, though, see a significant drop in exercise. They participate in PE at school but have difficulty finding time or access to other forms of exercise.

Implement the 5-day-per-week rule.
The goal for adequate exercise is 30 continuous minutes (or more!) of huffing and puffing 3-5 times per week. Make your child responsible for keeping track by using a calendar to mark off days when he gets exercise. The exercise can include just about anything: playing a sport, running around the yard, jumping rope, jumping on a trampoline, taking a yoga or dance class, taking the family dog for a brisk walk or jog, and so on.

Get in the act, too.
Moms should follow the same routine, not just because it models the behavior but because it is good for you as well as your kids. I find that when parents carve out an exercise "session" with their child at least once a week, it serves as a great time to catch up and learn about what is going on in their child's life.

TEENS:
Here's where it all tends to fall apart. Teenagers are often saddled with homework and have very little time for formal exercise. When they do have free time, they would prefer to be socializing with friends. There is a group of athletes in this age bracket that get plenty of exercise, but even these kids may have months when a sport is out of season and their exercise routine drops to zero. Teens are also much more likely to waste away their free hours in front of the computer or texting on the phone.

Set the exercise rule in your house.
Enforce 30 minutes or more of continuous exercise 3-5 times per week. Teens often complain that they don't like to exercise because they think it is a task. But they typically have a good amount of flexibility--they can drive or get rides or travel using public transportation unsupervised--and so the types of exercise available to them are different from when they were younger.

Encourage your child to find something he likes to do.
If he understands that exercising is a life-long necessity, he may be more motivated to learn to enjoy it.

Check out more tips from Dr. Cara here:


To ask Dr. Cara a question, click here.

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe, is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here

How do you get your kids to exercise?


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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jean July 24, 2008, 3:21 PM

Ick! I can’t even look at that picture of those fat kids…it’s disgusting.

Niki  July 31, 2008, 10:35 AM

I use to be one of those kids and I wish I wssn’t. It hurt when people tease or make negative comments. Kids go through alot, at 12 I was responsible to taking care of my brothers after school, both my parents work, no to memntion my mom checked out of reality. Which lead me to alot of days of overeating to comfort the pain I was feeling.

Erica August 15, 2008, 3:24 PM

I am not saying its ok to be fat but some people have actual problems that prevent them from getting a workout i believe as long as you are confident with yourself and your body then you aree just fine.


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