Across North America, obesity in youth has grown in prevalence over several decades. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity has “doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years,” affecting children as young as six years old.
Obesity can lead to serious health risks — including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes — and when a child foregoes healthy practices, it can lead to a lifetime of issues.
Alongside poor dietary choices, children are also living sedentary lifestyles, which further contribute to childhood obesity. One effective way to combat this is introducing health and fitness to children at a young age. By getting your children to practice fitness early, you can help them build a strong foundation for a successful, healthy life. Here are five tips for getting children to get active and value fitness early.
Try New Things
Variety is the spice of life and, as cliché as it may sound, this is particularly important for children. Trying new activities can help children maintain their interest at higher levels, by providing diverse challenges that keep physical activity fun and fresh. Whether it’s indoor soccer, dance class, or martial arts, introduce your child to new activities that will keep them interested in fitness. Younger children may have limits to their attention span, so this also allows them to stay motivated throughout their exercise.
Let Your Child Choose
In a similar vein, letting your child choose can also cultivate their long-term interests. Giving them the opportunity to decide what they would like to commit their time to can give them a sense of responsibility and pride, which will encourage them to keep at it. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do your due diligence to ensure that the activity your child is choosing is both healthy and safe, as well as developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Provide your child with a handful of options that you have researched, let them choose which activity they wish to participate in, and be sure to focus on fun.
Education is an enormous part of tackling childhood obesity. Teach your child the benefits of living an active lifestyle, but avoid scaring them into exercising, as this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with fitness. Focus on the benefits, as opposed to the potential negative effects, while also touching on the importance of a balanced diet and lifestyle.
Be a Role Model
As a parent, it’s important to walk the walk and demonstrate first-hand the importance of health and fitness. In addition to playing and spending time outdoors with your child, make sure you’re modeling a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that children who regularly see their guardians enjoying a physical activity are more likely to do the same themselves. Set the tone for your child; it can be as simple as going for a daily walk after dinner, so long as you demonstrate that you are also committed to fitness.
Bridge the Gap
As your child grows up, he or she may have less time for extracurricular activities. Encourage him or her to continue with this journey in fitness and to stay active, especially if he or she has grown an affinity towards a sport or physical activity. Offer support as your child develops skills and let them know your support would continue if your child wishes to explore at a competitive level.
Giving your child the opportunity to develop a solid foundation for a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be challenging, as long as you are there to help guide them. With an emphasis on fun and an understanding of your child’s fitness personality (whether they lack athletic ability or have the potential to compete), your child will be able to live a healthy life that puts fitness first, well into adulthood.