According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC, “childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health.” It’s a health issue that can be caused by something as simple as unhealthy, sedentary behaviors or as complex as genetics. High blood pressure and cholesterol, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint problems, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression… There are a multitude of social, mental, and physical health problems that can come as a result of childhood obesity.
Perhaps more pertinent to acknowledge is the risk factor for childhood obesity, which directly leads to their chances of being obese as adults. Later in life, these children experience a greater risk for more serious health conditions that can be fatal. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to safeguard your child’s health and wellbeing, and one of the best ways to do this is establishing healthy habits at an early age. Eating healthy foods, reducing screentime, and finding ways to get more active are all valuable ways to create healthy habits for your child. And in getting active, there are five key benefits to exercising as a family specifically!
1. Establish Lifelong Habits
Exercising and encouraging physical activity for your children is a surefire way to help them establish healthy habits lifelong. This is even true before they’re born. Studies show that “lifestyle practices of fathers prior to conception have a major impact on the lifelong health of their children – even as adults.” And the same is true for women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant. By practicing healthy habits, you can affect your child’s future habits. It’s true that children who exercise are healthier as adults and that early-life exercise increases the propensity to exercise later in life. By creating a routine, you will teach your children to establish healthy habits to carry them well into their adulthood.
2. Bonding Time
Families typically spend time bonding during sedentary activities like watching movies or television. By exercising as a way of bonding, children experience increased communication and practice teamwork. These two skills are particularly important to your child’s development. Teamwork is the perfect way to teach children to rally together and work toward a common goal.
Through this, your child will feel a renewed sense of growth and ownership by participating and as such, boosted self-confidence.
Additionally, group exercise is the perfect time to get to know your child. You’ll learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Through this, you can also find what motivates your child and encourage good behavior or nip bad habits (like being a sore loser) in the bud. Bonding through group exercise also fosters strong relationships and creates trust.
3. Leading by Example
Think back to when you were a child. Was there anything you saw adults or teens doing that you instantly wanted to emulate? Kids watch what we do and are easily influenced by those actions. If they see you doing something, they’re more likely to take an interest as well. This is especially true in health and fitness. In fact, researchers found that mothers who live a healthy lifestyle, have healthier fitter children. Incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle, in full view of your children, is the best way to encourage them to create healthy habits of their own.
Likewise, exercising as a family can change your child’s perception of exercise and physical activity and creating a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to remember that children listen to what they hear and see as well and this can drastically affect their world view. Watch what words you use and the way you respond to physical activity., If you treat it like a chore, it’s likely they will grow to do the same. In the same vein, speak about yourself more positively. Accept yourself. Teach your children that they should celebrate strength and learn to break the societal norm of equating fitness with a certain look or body type. Body image is easily distorted by other people’s comments and judgments. You can challenge this by encouraging positive self-talk.
4. Enhances Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Capacity
Children who exercise experience improved levels of confidence and self-esteem. A child’s emotional well-being can be positively impacted if activity is introduced to their routine. Exercise can lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression by raising serotonin levels. In essence, exercise makes you happier all around. Through teamwork, your child’s emotional maturity will increase. As will their problem-solving and conflict resolution capabilities. Similarly, children’s brains grow with exercise, which creates better academic performance. “Physical fitness in children is associated with a greater volume of gray matter in several cortical and subcortical brain regions.”
5. Promotes Physical Health
Lastly, exercise promotes physical health. Teach your children the benefit of exercise and physical activity. For example, just 30 minutes a day can enhance one’s fitness, increase strength and heart health, teach children better weight management, improve sleep, and boost one’s immune system. And remember that “healthy living involves not only moving around more but sitting less – engaging in fewer sedentary behaviors like watching TV or going online.” So if you are watching tv, make that an opportunity to get moving too. Do something as simple as completing exercises during commercial breaks!
Let children teach while you act as a facilitator and guide. This will teach them a sense of leadership and responsibility. Additionally, learn new skills cooperatively. Before giving your child a correction, allow them the opportunity to practice the skill a few times. Of course, corrections are important. It’s better to exercise safely and with correct form lest you wind up with an injury. Take some time to find some age-appropriate exercises for your child. It’s important that you keep them engaged by giving them movements that can master and accomplish.
Feel like you don’t have time? Don’t worry about making things complex! Add activity by doing something as simple as adding a walk to your nighttime or morning schedule, spending Saturday afternoons at the park, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that “children ages 6 years and older should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every single day.” (10) So get moving!