Putting Them the Right Way Up: Helping Our Children Get Fitter

It could very well be the battle that you feel you cannot win. While learning to improve your health and fitness is one thing, when you’ve got a child that is in your opinion sedentary and doesn’t do anything, trying to get them fit and healthy can be the mount Everest of challenges. What does it really take to get your child to be fit and healthy? And is it really all about forcing them to run 5 miles a day, or is the solution far simpler?

Focus on the Fun

Some parents get into their heads that they need to force their children to run the equivalent of a marathon in order to gain any benefits. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of exercise. If you have a very sedentary child, getting them to run a long-distance or force them to exert themselves more than they are used to could be very detrimental. Mentally speaking, it can force them to give up, and physically it may not be good for them at all because their body isn’t used to that level of exercise. The most important thing you need to do as a parent is to focus on making it as fun as possible for them.

This can be difficult if they aren’t used to exercise at all, but try and put the ball in their court. Help your child to find some sort of sport they enjoy, no matter how minimally physical it is from the outside. Even something like golf can be quite a physical sport. You may want to go down the typical route and think about something like baseball. Installing something akin to batting cages in your back garden or out in a nearby field can give your child the opportunity to play some sports and help you both spend time together. After all, it can be quite therapeutic throwing a baseball or hitting it as far as possible.

And even as far as fun activities are concerned they don’t necessarily have to be sports. One of the big things we underestimate is the power of playing. When you see children around they stop when they are tired and start up again as soon as they have rested. If you can encourage your child to play, or at the very least, have an age-appropriate activity in mind, this may help win half the battle. Think about the best activities for their development. If your child is around the age of 8, weight lifting or running won’t be fun at all but going swimming or bike riding can be appropriate, but beneficial. The important thing is that you provide as many different options as possible. Much like when you’re trying to get your child to eat healthy foods, giving them a wider variety rather than one or two choices will help.

Putting Aside the Same Time Every Week for “Exercise”

Much like when you’re embedding in any new routine, setting aside the same time every week helps it to become a habit. It’s important to realize that when you are putting aside time for exercise that you join in and encourage. It’s so easy for parents to tell their children to do something but not actually do it themselves. There could be a very simple reason that you’re not able to fit in exercise, it could be due to work commitments or your child has too much homework or other extracurricular activities. And while it may feel like there is no extra time in the week, this is why you should necessarily class it as exercise. This will set off alarm bells in your child’s mind. Instead, focus on an age-appropriate activity that they would enjoy.

To start with it may seem like a battle that you cannot win. If you can find an activity that they enjoy, this will be half the battle but then trying to get them to do anything is another challenge all in itself. If they struggle to begin with or you can’t get them to do 5-minutes, just aim for 4 minutes. Make the activity small until they get bored of it and after a while, because the habit becomes embedded, they will want to get it out of the way so they can carry on with what they were doing. But this means that you have to be subtle in your plans. Gradually expand the time that they do this activity, and over time, potentially months or even years, you can build them up to a good base level of fitness.

The important thing is to not overdo it and to make sure that they aren’t exerting themselves to the point of exhaustion. We think that in order to gain any fitness benefits that we have to hit the gym 6 days a week. This is not the case at all in fact it’s about providing the appropriate level of stimulus in conjunction with enough rest to recover.

Give Them a Safe Environment to Get Fit and Healthy

It may very well be to do with the fact that they feel self-conscious. Maybe your child is one of those who started with good intentions in school but were mocked and found themselves giving up gym class before they had the opportunity to develop. If you can provide them with an environment where they can be themselves, even if they don’t want to exercise in school, at the very least you can guarantee that they have a certain level of fitness.

If they are shy or don’t feel they can’t open up in gym class, there is no point in sending them to some form of martial arts class. Of course, the question is if they feel comfortable with you. Perhaps setting aside time where it is just the two of you at home with an exercise video on YouTube could be the best solution. There is a treasure trove of resources online and specific age-appropriate workout videos. But again, it’s about you giving them encouragement and helping them to feel that they can get fit and healthy without being made fun of. It’s a very exposing thing, especially when you see adults going to the gym for the first time. And it’s important for you, as the parent, to think about that before you make any passive-aggressive comments or tease them. Because you will be making a bigger mountain for yourself, and potentially harm your relationship in the process. 

Be the Role Model

If you want your child to be fit and healthy the biggest lesson anybody has to learn is about setting the example. While it’s so easy to lecture our children about their health, if they don’t want to do something to spite you, you won’t be able to force them. Many parents use the cliches when it comes to getting the kids to eat healthily; things like “it’ll make you big and strong.” Perhaps it might be a better idea to go down a different approach. 

When anybody is making changes to their life or diet for the better, they will feel better in themselves. And this is something that we have to continually remind ourselves of. In order to help your child to get healthier and fitter, it’s about helping them to feel better in themselves. Many people exercise until everything hurts. And while as adults we know this is what can help us get stronger, for children it just would seem to be a huge amount of pain for nothing. Luckily children recover quicker. But the key is about doing everything that we want our children to do. 

There is no point in making yourself their coach because this may serve to drive a wedge between the two of you. If you can both do the same things and enjoy the same activities, not only are you both doing something together, but you know you are in the sweet spot as far as their abilities and interests are concerned. You can spend a lot of time trying to craft certain exercise routines but it won’t mean anything if you don’t do it yourself.

We hear so much about being fit and healthy as far as exercise is concerned. And this is a lesson that we can continue to remind ourselves of. When exercise is viewed as the one way to get healthy, this can send the wrong impression; that exercise is all you need to do and you can eat whatever you want. But however old you are we have to remember that diet is just as important. And while this is another battle that you would have to face with your children, if they are not leading a sedentary lifestyle and are exercising to the point where they are maintaining a healthy BMI or at the very least keeping active, you should consider this a success. If we can encourage our children to have a base level of fitness this will set them up in more ways than they will ever realize. 

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