Some facts about keeping your kids fit

Exercise should be an intrinsic part of our everyday lives, but unhealthy habits and sedentary lifestyles are creating an epidemic of overweight and inactive children.

With 25% of South African teens and 17% of children younger than nine years of age classed as overweight or obese, implementing physical exercise in school has never been more important. Other school issues like concentration, bullying and feeling inadequate on the sports field could also have to do with understanding your child and their relationship to exercise.

The benefits of exercise for kids

  • Exercise helps kids achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, as well as form healthy habits they are likely to carry into their adult years.
  • Physical activity can prevent or delay the development of many chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
  • Exercising regularly helps build and maintain strong, healthy muscles, bones and joints.
  • Participating in team sports improves your child’s development of important interpersonal skills, as well as their motor performance and coordination.
  • Regular exercise in a child’s routine can improve their school attendance and academic performance.
  • Fewer cases of anxiety and depression are reported in active kids, and overall moods tend to be better.
  • Kids who exercise have better self-esteem and better self-images.

The dangers facing children who don’t exercise

The short-term consequences

Kids who are unhappy with their weight may also be more likely to develop eating disorders and substance abuse problems. Diagnosing and treating overweight and obesity in children as early as possible may reduce the risk of developing these and other serious medical conditions as they get older. Whatever your children’s weight, though, let them know that you love them and that all you want to do is help them be healthy and happy.

The long-term consequences

Overweight and obese children are at a greater risk of developing serious health problems such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Asthma
  • Restless or disordered sleep patterns
  • Liver and gall bladder disease
  • Depression and low self-esteem

How much exercise do children need?

The amount and type of exercise a child needs depends on their age and energy levels:

Toddlers and preschoolers should be enjoying up to two hours of exercise daily. At these tender ages, children should easily manage these exercise requirements from their general daily activities of game playing and running around the playground.

Kids from the age of 5 and up should be naturally active and getting a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise every day.

Young teens should practise vigorous exercise for about an hour a day at least 3 days a week and be moderately active in general during the rest of the week.

Remember that a child’s reason for exercise is marginally different to yours. Focus on choosing the right exercises or physical activities for your kids’ age to avoid frustration and boredom. The activities you choose should be fun to do, should use the large muscle groups, as in running, biking or swimming, and should be done with friends or family at least part of the time.

*If your child has any medical conditions or takes medication, make sure to talk to a paediatrician about the types of exercise that are most suitable for them.

How does exercise help children cope with stress or bullying? 

  • Children become physically stronger through exercise, and feel more equipped to stand up to bullies.
  • Exercise can significantly improve self-esteem and usually has a direct impact on weight loss if being overweight or obese is a reason behind the child’s bullying. It also improves coordination and cognitive ability, which less coordinated or cognitively challenged children are often teased about.
  • Being part of a group exercise – usually team sports or supervised classes like dancing – helps children form bonds with others and become part of a team, making them less likely targets for bullies.

How do you encourage children who don’t like exercise to exercise?

  • Allow your kids the right to decide what they enjoy. Let them know the variety of exercise that is available to them and encourages them to explore what most interests them.
  • If they are not committed to a particular sport or set extra-curricular activity, change the scenery when they exercise. Let them enjoy the park, the beach, a hike in nature or the playground to keep them stimulated and interested.
  • Competitive sports are great for many, but there could be a variety of reasons your child is not interested. Identify whether they would prefer interactive sports ie. Teams competing against teams, or if they would rather be focusing on a solo sport with one-on-one teaching instruction, like golf or swimming.
  • Also ensure that your child is at the right age to undertake the cognitive demands of certain sports. Enrolling them too early could be a cause for distress, where the child feels inadequate and gives up altogether.
  • Creative outlets can be exercise too. Modern dancing, drama classes and synchronised swimming are all great options.
  • Let them explore their hobbies. Exercise doesn’t have to be routine, and fun hobbies like BMXing, surfing, kite flying, hiking and rock climbing all constitute as exercise.

Are there pros or cons of cybersports like Nintendo Wii?

It’s obvious that the playing the real sport burns more calories, but being able to play these games in the comfort of one’s home is a plus, particularly when the real thing is not an option whether as a result of budget, weather or health conditions.

A benefit of these types of programmes is that they often record the time spent at each activity, allowing children to log additional physical activities, and track their weight and body mass index (BMI) over time.