This article is from The Swaddle.
By Neville Wadia
For most kids, the only part of the body they exercise is their thumb--one swipe at a time. It's not easy to encourage healthy movement, particularly if you live in a city where space and time is at a premium, but regular physical activity makes kids healthier. Exercise strengthens your child's heart, lungs and bones; improves balance, reflexes and coordination; and helps manage weight by burning energy. It also sets them up for a healthier adulthood by instilling lifestyle habits that can prevent diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
But how to get them off the couch?
The trick is: make it fun. When exercise doesn't feel like exercise, kids are happy to do it. No need to monitor toe touches or count sit-ups. Just get your kid up and moving as much as possible. Here are some tips.
Set an obstacle course
This can be a great activity both indoors and out. If the heat or rain is keeping you in your building, use stairs, chairs, boxes, baskets, and tables to create a course at home.
Outside, set the kids on a path that has them running around trees, crawling under benches, jumping over sticks, and hopping up stairs. Just make sure you're in a clean, safe environment. This activity is great for kids age 3-15, individually or in groups. For the older end of this age group, you can make the course more complex and fun by making up rules (like having to hop on one leg instead of run between obstacles). Add a competitive spirit by timing the course; kids can either vie against each other or try to beat their own previous times.
Skipping rope is ideal for getting the heart rate up. Kids age 4 and up can do it alone, with short ropes, or with friends and family using longer ropes. Skip rope rhymes make the activity fun (and as a plus, they help build kids' verbal skills).
Dance like no one's watching
There's no rule that says you have to be a bharathanatiyam champ to dance. Put on your child's favourite music to inspire movement, even if his or her signature move is simply bopping to the beat. Dancing gets the heart going and limbs stretching and is perfect for all ages. There's no age limit for impromptu dance parties.
Cycle in circles
Cycling is a great exercise for kids, helping to strengthen their core and leg muscles, balance, and coordination. But with so much traffic on the roads, we don't recommend cycling there. Luckily, many buildings come with enough common ground and parking lots to accommodate a young cyclist pedaling in circles. Set different, fun challenges for your child, whether based on completion time or style of riding (figure eights instead of laps). Great for children ages 4 and up.
Whether running, skipping, swimming, or cycling; whether one-, two-, or three-legged, relays get kids excited. Not only do they secretly get kids exercising, they also teach kids the importance of teamwork. If the weather is nice, organize your child's friends in a relay race outdoors. If it's too hot or rainy, try a relay race up and down the stairs. Relays require at least four children and work well for kids age 4 and up.
Make it a game
Tag, catch-and-cook, stick in the mud, dog and bone, and other games get kids running, skipping, dodging and hopping without realizing it. You'll need a group of similarly aged children to play with your child, but chances are they'll be only too happy to join in. Games are best for kids age 4-12.
Bounce for the stars
Buy a trampoline. This is an inexpensive and easily stored piece of equipment that encourages kids to jump for time on end. Even better? They don't outgrow it, as it's fun for all ages.
Swim like a fish
Good pools can be hard to find in big cities, but swimming is one of the best workouts anyone can do. Kids particularly enjoy it. Whether splashing in the shallow end or swimming full laps, water provides a natural resistance that strengthens muscles and works the cardiovascular system. Swimming can have the added benefit of building confidence and helping children master fear, as children as young as 2 can be introduced to swimming with the help of flotation devices.
Take a trip
If your city isn't known for its open, green space, make a point of getting out of town with your family on a regular basis. Arrange a trek at a nearby national forest or nature preserve. Swim in the ocean and run on the sand at a nearby beach. Just look for a place that has nature and space, and your kids will likely take it from there.
Join a team
Team sports have many benefits, not least of which is regular exercise. Kids on sports teams are required to attend scheduled practices, led by a professional coach, that get them moving on a regular basis. Team sports also teach kids collaboration, cooperation, trust, and physical pastime they might enjoy for the rest of their lives. Depending on the sport, teams are generally formed kids by age group, from the age of 4 and up.
If you have a toddler or small child, indoor playgrounds can be a godsend. They are self-contained, generally safe spaces full of colourful playthings designed to get your kid moving. Most metros have at least one of these places, which tend to charge an hourly rate for kids to enjoy slides, ball pits, trampolines, monkey bars and more.
This is a big one for toddlers and small children: Letting kids run around without shoes or socks has a lot of health benefits. Nerve receptors in the soles of our feet are very sensitive and important for growth. Their proper development affects things like balance, posture, gait, sense of touch, and more. To ensure proper development, let your little one walk barefoot on different textures: a tile floor, grass, stone, mud, sand, etc. She may get a little dirty, but she'll grow up just fine.
Getting your child to exercise isn't difficult; it just takes a little creativity. Whatever you do, just remember the two most important parts of helping kids be active: fun and safety.