With childhood obesity swiftly on the rise, and incidents of childhood (Type 2) diabetes a daunting byproduct, healthy diet and sustained physical activity are the keys to optimum health, higher self-esteem, social acceptance, and a better life for every young person.
Many of us work long days, however, and sometimes have two or more jobs, unable to hover over our kids from morning until night to make sure they keep moving. While school fitness programs and afterschool sports are a good start, if your child simply isn’t interested in exercise – or possibly it’s the often harsh competitive aspects of activities like soccer, football or field hockey that get in the way – finding a fitness regimen geared to their own personal interests may be the answer.
So how do you create interest in physical activity where none may exist?
For a child who likes music, motivation may readily be found in the beat! As children ourselves, who doesn’t recall strutting around the house in our skivvies–a la Tom Cruise–when no one was home, boom box in hand (or should we say perched precariously on one unclad Madonna-esque shoulder)? And though the delivery system may have changed, with a little encouragement your child can experience the same jubilation (translation: endorphins) with Justin Beiber and an iPod that you did with Bob Seeger and an audiocassette, not to mention the cardiovascular perks.
In short, determining what subject floats your child’s boat, so to speak, is an important component. If she loves science, set aside some together time for both of you to investigate the effects of exercise on the physiology of the human heart, brain (talk about mood here: we all want to feel good), blood, bones, etc. The Internet is chock full of exciting visuals: charts, illustrations, video and more that show the human body in motion, identifying actions such as aerobic and anaerobic processes. When your budding scientist bites, suggest putting these various processes she has learned to the test with a walk, a run, a game of hoops, a bike ride, skating at the local ice or roller rink, a yoga class, etc. Encourage her to think and talk about what’s happening to her body while she’s exercising, and to compare the effects of one physical activity with another, based on her research. In time she may connect with a form of exercise she really likes, having been motivated by science to put so many of them to the test, ensuring she will want to keep at it.
If history galvanizes your child, make some time for the two of you to explore how ideas about fitness–and the equipment used to achieve it–have changed in the past hundred years or more. In some cases there are museums or online archives that are dedicated to showcasing this information. You might also be compelled to investigate how ideas about food, diet, and how we look have changed over the last century, with conclusions drawn by your child about how to best achieve his own results.
Is your child the next Picasso or Giacometti? Jazzed by Jackson Pollock? Many cities have art walks which involve long walks around city streets festooned with local art. It’s a good way to get the heart pumping, both from aesthetic and cardiovascular standpoints. And if your child studies Ansel Adams the way other kids read comic books, a brisk nature walk, camera in hand, can expand both the portfolio and the lungs.
Finally, with extended videogame-itis sometimes seen as the number one “affliction” of growing boys (and girls), why not parlay their Xbox pox into a rousing game of laser tag or paintball? Don the athletic shoes, the protective gear if necessary, and let those “glutes,” “pecks,” and “lats” have at it!
Whatever the subject, and however you get there, working to open that essential personal door to your children’s health and fitness by helping them develop their own formula can establish good habits they will carry well into their teen and adult years, and may even inspire others in the process.