As a mother of four, I can tell you that nothing is more exciting, or daunting, as the end of yet another school year. The fact that I can lay aside daily tasks such as homework, packing lunches, and making a protein breakfast before 7:00 am offers a well-earned respite for both myself and my children. On the other hand, facing three long months of unfilled eight hour days is also an overwhelming prospect. I am literally haunted by the question, “what should we do today?” Although staying in our pajamas and lazing in front of the television or computer is the easiest, and perhaps most tempting idea, I am cognizant of the fact that what’s easiest isn’t always what’s best. In fact, studies show that sedentary kids (and moms) are very likely to experience unhealthy summer weight gain, leading to increased health problems, negative attitudes and even depression.
Summer is supposed to be full of fun activity, but if you have children you know all too well how difficult it can be to get your kids moving. With all the allure of Facebook, YouTube, video games, cell phones and good old fashioned cable TV, it can be a serious challenge to get your children out of the house and into physical activity. Pediatricians, physical educators, and health experts, however, all agree that too many kids are choosing to fill up their summer vacation with sedentary activities rather than with activities that require exercise and physical exertion. Honestly, what’s a mom to do? How can we possibly compete with the images and interactions our kids can experience without ever having to move a muscle?
If we know that the experts recommend at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, then how can we help our kids stay fit without subjecting them to the tedium of the treadmill or making them feel as if their summer is nothing more than another task filled time of life? From one parent to another, I admit I don’t have all the answers, but here are some ideas I have collected from various sources to help us keep our kids from falling into the trap of a sedentary summer.
1. Media-free Monday: We all know our kids should be watching less television, less YouTube and playing less video games, but it’s tough. One thing I’ve discovered is that if kids don’t expect to get it, they won’t be quite as disappointed. Instituting one day a week where media is simply off limits not only manages expectations, it also gets kids thinking about other things they can do to make summer enjoyable. Starting the week off with a day that requires kids to think outside the box can actually set you up for success for the rest of the week. Make it fun, make it challenging and let your kids know that there are six other days of the week when media can be a part of their day. I once read that it’s not what we are doing while watching TV that’s dangerous, it’s what we’re NOT doing. It’s surprising what you can accomplish or create or learn in an eight hour day when media is simply off the table.
2. Set Physical Fitness Goals: One summer, I offered my children $25 a piece if they completed a physical fitness challenge. That summer, one of my children learned to ride her bike and another worked his way up to doing 25 push-ups in a row. Goals are important and as a mother, I am happy to invest a little money in my children’s physical health. Perhaps set the goal of being able to swim 10 laps without stopping, or find a 5K and offer a small reward to the child who completes it. Teaching our children now that exercise is important will be worth it’s weight in gold further down the road when we’ve raised healthy, physically active adults.
3. Exercise Together: Let’s face it, kids aren’t the only ones who struggle with laziness, especially after an eight hour day at the office. The nice part about summer is that the days are longer. Take advantage of those summer evenings, when it’s still light outside, but not quite as hot, by making after dinner a time when your family gets outside. Take a bike ride or a walk or play a game of basketball or freeze tag. You’ll be surprised at how much more willing your kids are to exercise when you are doing it with them and who knows? It could be you all discover you would rather be outside playing together than inside watching another rerun of Family Feud.
4. Make a Schedule: Although you don’t want summer to become too rigid, too much down time can also become a burden, especially for children who tend to be high achievers. Perhaps create a modified summer schedule that factors in specific times to read, create, exercise and relax. A variety of activities will keep your children from becoming bored and will also keep the juices flowing. Maybe you have an artist or a chef or a musician in your home. Summer is one of the best times to explore some of the more creative aspects of your child’s personality. If you don’t know what to do, ask your children. They know what they enjoy better than anyone and if you make it fun and interesting, they won’t resent having scheduled time to do things other than simply sit on the couch or stare at a screen.
5. Keep it Simple: Sometimes as parents we fall into the trap of believing bigger is always better, but it’s simply not true. Although my kids love to go to specialized camps for basketball or gymnastics, they don’t want to go to camp all summer and they don’t need day after day of elaborate outings in order to be active and find enjoyment. A simple game of soccer in the yard, throwing a Frisbee at the beach or walking to the local library can be equally, if not more, gratifying. Make a list of 50 things you would like to do with your kids this summer that don’t cost a lot of money, but provide a lot of activity and interaction. Not only will your kids be thrilled, I’d be willing to bet you will find that summer is a big success for the whole family.
The dangers of a sedentary summer are obvious and the experts agree. Both adults and children need more exercise and practicing preventive care maintenance is always easier than combating health care issues. Don’t let the prospect of long summer days with no activity defeat you. Make a plan and make it fun. As always, before starting any weight loss program, consult your doctor first and get his/her clearance for physical activity. Find out if there are any issues that would affect you or your children participating in a new nutrition and fitness program.
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