Now that school is out for the summer it is time to consider ways to encourage kids to be active. We know that school activities such as recess, physical education, classroom exercise breaks, and before- and after-school physical activities all contribute significantly to meeting national guidelines for physical activity (60 minutes per day recommended). Research also indicates that many kids are sedentary during the summer months, getting less moderate to vigorous activity than during the school year. So when school is out it is important for kids to find other opportunities for exercise.
Some experts suggest that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” during the summer months. Already active kids (the rich) become more active and not so active kids (the poor) become more sedentary. When school is out there is more time to be active and some kids take advantage of the extra time. Others, however, become less active when the structured activities of school are no longer available.
Parents can be helpful in encouraging activities both structured and unstructured. There is evidence that planned or structured activities increase youth participation. Increasing opportunities (not necessarily structured) can also be helpful. To increase unstructured activities the following suggestions can be useful:
• Have exercise equipment available. Consider exercise bands, exercise balls, sports equipment, and other equipment that encourages activity.
• Limit screen time. This includes television, cell phones, computers, and passive computer games. High screen time is associated with inactivity and weight gain.
• Substitute active screen time. Choose computer and TV games that require youth to be active (e.g., Wii dance and fitness).
• Encourage outdoor activity. Studies show that kids who spend time outdoors are more active than those who stay indoors.
• Encourage activity while shopping. Shopping requires walking. Walking can contribute to personal and family activity goals. Park away from stores and walk to them. Encourage kids to walk while shopping (as opposed to riding).
Consider these suggestions for increasing youth activity using structured or planned exercise. Consistent with National Physical Activity Guidelines for Youth consider activities that are enjoyable, provide variety, and that are developmentally appropriate.
• Enroll youth in community activities. Consider city recreation, YMCA, sports leagues, school and church activities, day camps, and camps.
• Be active with your kids. Family participation, even participation by groups within the family, has been shown to be beneficial for both youth and family adults. Schedule regular family walks, hikes, or trips to active places such as the roller rink, the park, or the ice rink. Active parental role models are powerful in promoting youth activity. Kids who are active with parents are six times more active than those who are not.
• Use a pedometer to count daily activity and set activity goals. Set a family step goal with individual goals for each family member. See if each person can meet the goal and if the family can meet its group goal. This can be a good motivator during the summer months.
• Participate in the President’s Challenge. The President’s Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) can be earned by participating in 60 minutes of activity five days a week for six weeks during an eight-week period. It also requires evidence of healthy eating. www.presidentschallenge.org/challenge/active/index.shtml
• Participate in charity events. Participating in walks, runs, and jump rope activities for charity have a triple benefit. Kids get activity from preparing and from participating. They also get the benefit of doing something positive for others.
• Take active vacations. Consider vacation plans that include hiking, biking and other types of physical activity.
• Take a swim. Plan family swims. If you have a pool, plan safe supervised swims each day. Offer challenges to keep kids interested in being active in the water.
• Arrange active play dates. Consider multifamily active play dates. Rotate planning and supervisory responsibilities.
• Avoid excuses. Make a family activity plan. Stick to it. Avoid the tendency to skip planned activities. Studies show that the great majority of Americans overestimate the activity of their children. Avoid the excuse, “My kids are active enough, I don’t need to plan.” Avoid the excuse, “I just don’t have time.” The gift of time to be active with your kids can be one of the best gifts you can give. If you have time to walk the dog, you have time to walk with your kids. Take them on the walk with the dog.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He is a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.