Tips to Help Kids Exercise

Children naturally love to play and move their bodies, but like all of us they often need some encouragement and motivation. Good PE teachers and athletic coaches know that the key to getting and keeping kids (and adults) healthy is to make exercise less about “work” and more about “play.” Here are a few tips to help encourage habits that will last a lifetime.

Start by explaining to your children why exercise is important and that “exercise” is just a fancy word that means moving your body. Stress to them that the best exercise is just something you enjoy that gets you moving, then let them help choose activities, or come up with ideas of their own.

Stay upbeat! Offer lots of positive reinforcement and remind your child to help encourage other family members, too. You’ll all enjoy cheering each other on, especially if you remember to praise effort, rather than natural ability or results. For instance, instead of “You’re a fast runner!” try “Wow, you pushed yourself really hard today! Good job!”

A key to the success of the HEAL Program is that it discourages unhealthy comparisons and competition. No two children (or adults!) are alike and everyone’s fitness level varies. However, we can all improve, whether we’re Olympic athletes, world class couch potatoes, or fall somewhere in-between. Remind your child how far or fast they’ve come and how much they’re improving. Consider getting a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor, which allows children to set goals for themselves and to see their individual progress, regardless of what kind of shape they’re in.

Learn and teach children about heart power and how to find their heart rate and track it as they exercise. Explain that this is a much better measure of health than pounds lost.

Avoid confidence zappers. Exercise should never be used as punishment. Likewise, food shouldn’t be used as a reward. Remind children of the positive effects they can see right away from exercise, like more energy and an improved mood. Your end goal is help children learn to love how exercise makes them feel.

Mix it up. Children and parents will both get bored and frustrated quickly if exercise becomes a chore.  Look for new ideas that can include children and even the family pet.

Lead by example. Children model their behavior and their attitude from their caregivers and they are much more likely to take your advice seriously if they see you exercising, or even better, if you exercise with them.  Never put down your own body or demean your own efforts, either. Children are quick to pick up their parent’s habits, for better or for worse.