This guest post is by Smart Eating for Kids’ nutrition intern, Maggie Michalczyk.
With summer just around the corner, kids are spending more of their time outside, making it a great time to ramp up your child’s physical activity level. Not only does exercise have direct benefits on overall health, but did you know that it may even help improve your child’s behavior and eating habits?
How Exercise Can Improve Your Child’s Eating
Some innovative schools have shown us just how affective exercise before lunch can be. According to The New York Times, schools report than when “children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.”
Take a nod from these savvy schools and try implementing a “play outside before lunch and dinner” routine this summer. You may be surprised at how many more vegetables your child polishes off. Personally, I’ve seen it make a world of difference for my nephew.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?
Like me, many of you likely have childhood memories of going to the park and playing outside around the neighborhood all summer long. We were physically active without even knowing it. I see this when I play with my young nephews. All they want to do is run around. Making them sit is the equivalent of a punishment! Who would have thought?
Unfortunately, a recent study showed that 58% of children spend less than four days a week playing outside. Balancing screen time and other sedentary with time spent doing physical activity can be a struggle in some households.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is recommended that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, three times a week.
What Type of Exercise is Best?
Most of your child’s activeness should be in the form of aerobic activities such as rollerblading, biking, swimming, or playing soccer. Aerobic exercise helps kids manage their body weight, reduce their risk of diabetes and improve both their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Good news for parents, research has also shown that it may help them follow directions better and improve their mood.
It is important to keep in mind that part of your child’s 60 minutes of physical activity should also be made up of muscle-strengthening activities. Push-ups, sit-ups and sports such as gymnastics and cheerleading are just a few of the ways that children can improve their bone mineral density and overall body composition.
With its wide variety of both aerobic and muscle strengthening equipment (monkey bars, climbing ropes, balance bridges), the playground is a perfect place for children to engage in physical activity.
Get Out and Play!
Incorporating exercise into what a child does everyday builds a foundation for them to continue an active lifestyle for the rest of their lives. Here are some tips for encouraging fitness and promoting its enjoyment in your household.
- Set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle yourself. Your little ones want to be just like you so show them just how exciting (and important) staying fit can be.
- Promote family fitness! Schedule a family walk or bike ride every day after dinner (or before dinner, if you can).
- Explore sports and activities you think your child would be interested in.
- Not comfortable with team sports? That’s okay, individual sports such as tennis, or even a walk in the woods, can be just as fun and beneficial.
- Establish clear limits on how much screen time (i.e. watching TV, playing video games, being on the computer) your child is allowed per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day for children.
- Join Fuel up to Play 60,a movement that encourages kids to eat healthy and move more. Kids even have the opportunity to win prizes and rewards for their accomplishments.
What are your favorite ways to get out and move as a family this summer?
Maggie Michalczyk is a senior studying Dietetics at Michigan State University. As an aunt to two toddlers, Liam and Evan, Maggie became interested in childhood nutrition from watching them and helping her sisters find new ways to make food fun and exciting. She loves trying new foods, traveling and spending time outdoors!