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Children’s Health and Fitness – Ten Steps to Healthier Living

Today more than ever, it is harder than ever to maintain a healthy lifestyle with sedentary hobbies such as watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet that compete for our children’s time and replace more physical activity.

Combined with the easy access and low cost of unhealthy processed foods or “junk food”, this can impact children’s health, not only in childhood, but also in adulthood, leading to serious health problems later in life.

It is therefore important to make a concerted effort to ensure that children lead healthy lifestyles and maintain good health. However, it can be difficult to get off to a good start and get your children to follow your lead. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 10 tips to help you on the road to health and happiness.

1) Involve the whole family – Children can sometimes be reluctant to participate in sports and games, especially if they feel they are being “forced” to do so against their will. Children follow their parents’ lead, so if they see their parents participating in sports and fitness activities, they are more likely to want to follow their parents’ lead. Ensuring that the whole family stays fit and healthy can motivate the child who is least reluctant to participate. Adopting a healthier lifestyle yourself can help teach children that they need to do the same.

It is not necessary to just play “soccer”. For example, a family outing to the zoo, a theme park or a local attraction such as a ruined castle will keep the children on their feet, give them something interesting to see and do while keeping them fit. By making an effort to organize outing days where the whole family participates, we can help the child have a healthier overall lifestyle.

2) Use “active” transportation – Giving up the car whenever possible and walking or cycling instead can help keep the whole family fit and healthy. This may mean walking to school instead of driving, or cycling to the park or local stores.

While it may not be possible for everyone to get rid of the car as easily because of distance or time constraints, it may be possible to substitute the occasional trip with another. Not only are walking or cycling better for your health, but they can also save you money and help the environment – all great examples for your children!

3) Regular Exercise – The key to staying fit and healthy for both adults and children is regular exercise. Try to schedule physical activities (of any kind) at regular intervals, but let your children set the pace. As soon as a child feels compelled to participate in a “fitness” program, you may begin to encounter resistance and refuse to do so.

Pushing your children beyond their limits can have a negative impact on their desire to do anything. Forcing them to train to become better at a sport or activity may seem like the right thing to do if they seem to have a talent for something, but it’s important to make sure your children are happy and don’t resent the activity, because in the long run this will become a problem.

4) Keeping fit with daily chores – Let’s be honest, no child likes to have to do their weekly and daily chores, but chores are a good thing to do because they teach the child their responsibilities while helping them to “make a living”.

If your child doesn’t like sports and outdoor activities, a subtle way to get extra exercise is to combine chores with physical activities. For example, washing the car, mowing the lawn or vacuuming are all ways to burn extra calories and keep your child moving and fit without him noticing!

5) Stay fresh and fun!

Many of us remember sports classes at school when we were forced to play sports we didn’t like, often in freezing cold weather, without proper clothing. These horrible moments cement a negative impression about sports and fitness into a child’s psyche.

This negativity should be avoided, so the buzzword to remember is “fun”. If you make sure that all the activities you participate in are fun for your child, fitness doesn’t become a burden or chore and quickly becomes a normal part of his or her daily life.

Children can get bored easily, so an activity they have done in the past can quickly lose its lustre from week to week. Unless you’re planning to make your child the next sports superstar, it doesn’t matter what activities they do to stay in shape as long as they enjoy them.

Introducing new sports and activities into a child’s routine can be a great way to find new active hobbies, so it’s worth experimenting and trying different things. What do you think about golf, trampoline, horseback riding or kayaking? There are many things to try!

6) Turn off the TV – When you lead an active lifestyle and have a full-time job, it’s easy to let your children enjoy themselves in front of the TV. A few years ago, children’s television was limited to a few hours in the afternoon and morning, but today, with the advent of cable and satellite channels, kids have dedicated stations they can watch all day. There is nothing wrong with watching television, it can be fun and educational, but it is a very inactive hobby.

Try to limit the time spent in front of the screen and turn off the TV after a few hours. There may be arguments for starting, but your child will begin to get used to the routine and will also look for other things to do while the TV is off – ideally more active things to do!

Children also love to play computer games that are traditionally considered very inactive. Lately, things have changed a bit: with the release of games like Dance Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Sports, you can now practice in front of the TV. Whenever possible, introduce your child to these “active” games and they’ll benefit from staying fit and healthy, while doing something they really enjoy.

7) Try Scouts and Guides – Not all children are the “outdoor” type and so may not be suitable for everyone, but getting your children involved in well-organized Scouts, Guides or similar groups can be a great way to ensure that your child leads an active life. For example, Scouts in the UK are open to young people aged 6 to 25 and participate in a wide range of activities from climbing, camping, sailing and hiking. These groups also engage in many creative and educational hobbies, making them a complete experience.

8) Nutrition and Healthy Eating – To maintain a healthy lifestyle, physical exercise must be combined with healthy eating and good nutrition. Good nutrition doesn’t always have to be limited to boring foods that your child doesn’t like, so try to introduce a wide range of cuisines and styles into your child’s diet. You never know what your child might like to eat.

Moderation is the buzzword for healthy eating. Minimize unhealthy snacks such as chips, chocolate, cookies and sweets, and introduce them perhaps only as treats or for special occasions. Your child won’t get used to eating these “treats” all the time and will enjoy them more when they do. The unhealthy foods listed above provide little or no nutritional benefit and may contain unhealthy additives that most nutritionists agree are not good for long-term health.

Beware of processed foods, they can sometimes contain unhealthy amounts of salt, sugar or other additives. Try to prepare your meals using raw ingredients so you will always know what is in your food. It may cost more money and take longer, but the long-term benefits for the whole family can be immense.

9) Team play – If your child shows signs of interest in sports such as soccer, field hockey or netball, getting your child involved in a local youth team is a great way for him or her to get all the exercise he or she needs. Not only will they have fun and get in shape, but they will also make friends with the other kids on the team, which will give them an extra reason to participate in the team’s practices. Adults can also get involved, for example, by helping at practices or lifting to and from practices.

Again, fun is key: if your child doesn’t want to go to practice, you may have to start by persuading or cajoling him or her slightly to get him or her back into the swing of things. However, if this reluctance persists, in the long run it’s best to let your child tell you what he likes to do. As mentioned earlier in this article, children can easily get bored and can quickly stop any activity, even if they enjoyed it before.

10) Active Holidays – Looking to kick-start a new healthy lifestyle for the whole family? Taking an active vacation where your child can try a wide range of sports and activities can be a great way to get fit and find new and interesting things to do. Places like Center Parcs offer perfect weekend getaways with a wide range of activities suitable for all ages and also have special offers such as “kids eat for free” that can save you money. Finding activities that encourage your children to become more active is the best way to ensure they stay fit and healthy. An active vacation is a great way to “hit the bull’s-eye” and find activities that your child enjoys and that you may never have thought of before.