I’m writing this to you as my children are sitting in front of a video screen. Sure I’m happy to see them safe and sound, but I worry about their sedentary lifestyle. While during the summer they are active outdoors, as soon as the winter sets in, they spend most of their free time on the couch. The truth is that they’re barely moving. I know this can’t be healthy. On the other hand, what kind of exercise can I offer them during the long and cold winter months? How do I get them to move off the couch?
Singing the Winter-Time Blues
Believe me when I tell you, you’re not singing alone. It seems that for us as parents, every season has its special challenges. And one of the challenges during this time of year is keeping our kids active and healthy despite the inclement weather.
First, let me assure you that exercise and physical activity are just as important for your children during the winter months as they are during the summer. According to the American Heart Association, children and adolescents should participate in at least sixty minutes of “moderate to vigorous activity” every day.
Sixty minutes is a lot. With our children’s’ very busy schedules it can be difficult to achieve. However, AHA studies have shown that “increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease,” and that, “Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits.” This means that your kids will not only be healthier, they will also be happier and more self-confident if they exercise regularly. That’s a lot to consider and certainly worth the effort of coming up with creative ways for our kids to get off the couch.
In my practice, I’ve discovered that there are dozens of ways to increase the physical activity of our children. We just have to focus on finding the methods that work best for our family. The following are a few ideas that might work for you:
Fitness programs don’t work for kids – they’re designed for adults. You may enjoy listening to your Ipod while jogging on the treadmill but for your children, this is not only boring it is also dangerous. They could lose their balance. Instead, try to turn everyday events into fun-filled physical activity. Buy a hula-hoop or a trampoline. Have an occasional pillow fight or beanbag-throwing contest. Offer your child a break from homework for a brisk walk to Bubby’s house and back. Remember the one important rule — If you want your children to be physically active, make sure they are having fun.
While some children do well with improvised home-based activity, others thrive on structured athletics and competitive sports. Many communities offer Motzei Shabbos or Sunday programs in basketball, swimming, or skating during the winter months. Take advantage of them. While it’s only once a week, your child is likely to develop a passion for sports as well as a certain agility that is priceless. Chances are he will also develop some lasting friendships.
If you wish to make the investment and your house has enough space, you might consider purchasing children’s fitness equipment for your family. A website called lifecozy.com offers junior sized rowing machines, treadmills, exercise bikes, airwalkers and more. They are made of tubular steel with foam padding, and are brightly colored. The average price of these items is about $60.
Limit sedentary time. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American child spends about three hours in front of a video or computer screen every day. Our community’s children do not have that much free time and their access is more limited. Still, what with video games, computers, and DVD’s, many do spend plenty of time in front of a screen. Encourage your child to set limits for herself. Tell her that she can do her research on the computer provided that she shuts it off in an hour. An hour later, chances are that she will be calling a friend and inviting her for a walk in the park.
Be a good role model. If children see their Tatty joining a weekly basketball game and their Mommy putting that gym membership to use, they know that you and your spouse have made physical activity a priority in your lives. You haven’t said a word, but your actions are speaking volumes. You are giving them a lesson that will prove invaluable for life.
Most important of all, remember that the great outdoors beckons even when it’s cold. Make sure that your children are dressed in plenty of layers and that they are dry and comfortable. Allow them to play in a well-lit area even if it’s after dark, as long as they are supervised. Encourage them to shovel the snow (a great calorie burner!) or build a snowman. Or join them in a fun brisk walk for the entire family. They’ll feel invigorated and energized. And so will you.
Chaya Stern is a licensed RPA Nutritionist and runs a private practice in nutritional counseling catering especially to children with overweight problems. Her training in pediatrics and internal medicine, coupled with over twenty years of experience in the field of nutrition, has made her a much sought-after authority on a variety of health issues. For more information, call The Nutrition Spot, at 718-437-6300.