Parents have a great opportunity to harness the natural energy children have and instill lifelong habits that will keep them active as they grow older. Regular exercise is as important for children as it is for adults because the problem of overweight affects both groups. In the 1970s, only about 5 percent of children were overweight. Today, at least 15 percent of children are overweight. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

By encouraging children to be active, parents can help prevent health risks associated with childhood overweight. Children who are overweight have measurable differences in blood pressure and cholesterol levels compared to children with a healthy weight. The rise in childhood diabetes is almost certainly linked to overweight and/or inactivity. An obese child is more likely to become an obese adult and suffer from diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers.

Be Your Child's Role Model

The federal government's dietary guidelines suggest that children and adolescents should be physically active at least 60 minutes on most days, if not every day. The AICR advises everyone to get an hour of moderate activity a day, like walking, and an hour of vigorous exercise a week, like jogging.

Parents can encourage children more effectively to stay active by setting a good example, rather than telling children what to do. If they want to give their children a reason for staying active, they should focus on the need to feel good and stay healthy, instead of drawing attention to body image.

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There are many ways that parents can model good health behaviors, while getting some health benefits for themselves at the same time. Some ideas are:

  • Put your very young child in a stroller and go for a walk. Or strap your child into a bicycle carrier with a helmet and go for a ride.
  • If your child can ride a bicycle, jog alongside or get on your own bicycle.
  • Limit the amount of time you watch television. By doing this, you will find it easier to limit the amount of time your child watches TV, movies, or video and computer games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of viewing time for children each day.
  • Stretch or exercise while watching TV.
  • Engage the whole family in physical activities, like Frisbee, playing catch, hiking, gardening, swimming, or rollerblading.
  • Sign up for exercise classes like kickboxing or join a sports team. Then sign your children up for classes or team sports.
  • Give children rewards, such as a basketball, that encourage them to be more active.

If you're an adult in need of inspiration and motivation to get active, call 1-800-843-8114, ext. 111, to request a free copy of "Getting Active, Staying Active."