Fitness

How to incorporate more exercise into your kid's day

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Fitness

How to incorporate more exercise into your kid's day

Exercise with children. We've all heard about the benefits; that exercise strengthens their hearts and helps them maintain healthy body weight and blood pressure. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, children ages 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Yet according to the foundation, more than half of Canadian children fall short of this target.

Getting more exercise into your kid's day
While organized sports are great for making up some of those hours, it's hard to imagine squeezing any more activities into your kids' day. Surely you can't be expected to schlep your kids to even more hockey arenas, swimming pools and dance classes? Good news: There are some easy (not to mention relatively inexpensive) ways to exercise with your children – and you can do them closer to home.

The key word is "accumulate"
Every step your child takes counts. And whether that step is actually a skip, a jump or a twirl, it's still a step. While vigorous exercise, which strengthens muscles and bones, should make up at least three of your kids' seven hours of exercise each week, not every activity has to seem like exercise. In fact, the more fun and carefree an activity, the more likely your kids are to actually do it – right?

Keeping kids active
For Carla McIvor, a Vancouver-based mom, schoolteacher and dance instructor, keeping her daughter, Daniella, active comes down to simply enjoying the outdoors and each other's company.

"If we're going to the store, we try to walk," says Carla. "It's a trek through the woods for part of it. If no one is around, we sometimes pretend to be horses and gallop."

On weekends, Carla and her husband, Mike, an avid adventure racer and two-time Ironman participant, often take Daniella camping. "Nothing compares to it," says Carla. "We go for nature walks, collect shells and other random treasures from the beach, ride bikes.... In essence, the entire day is active."

Walking (or galloping) to the store and other nearby places is a practical, easy way to integrate exercise into your family's day-to-day life. After a while, it will even become automatic: If your kids want to go somewhere nearby they will naturally use their own two feet to get there.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to encourage your kids to exercise by setting a good example on page 2.
Exercise with children: It starts with you
It's a simple rule, really. When you stay active, your kids will stay active too. Kirk Lum, the director of athletics at a Canadian independent school in Toronto, says that parents need to be a role model and make healthy lifestyle choices when their kids are young in order for those choices to become habits. A United States study published in The State Education Standard shows that children who lead physically active lives are better learners, more productive and become good public citizens.

Tips on how to incorporate more exercise into your children's lives:
Keep your house stocked with items that promote activity, such as basketballs, soccer balls (or any type of ball), skipping ropes, Hula-Hoops, scooters, skateboards, a trampoline, bikes, in-line skates and, of course, all of the requisite safety equipment.

Limit screen time – this includes time spent in front of both the TV and computer. And try to keep both out of your kids' bedrooms.

Set up a badminton set in the backyard. It's a great introduction to tennis and other racquet sports, especially for younger kids.

Give your kids outdoor chores – they love to help out and get dirty. Getting your kids gardening, raking, shovelling and carrying wood is a win-win situation: You get a break and your kids get some fresh air and exercise.

Check out nearby yoga studios for kids' yoga classes. Yoga is a great activity for a rainy day. Don't have a studio nearby? A yoga mat and Pilates ball are all kids need to do their own indoor yoga class.

Play outdoor games like Frisbee, tag and hide and seek with your kids. Games like these are great ways to spend long summer evenings.

Start a family tradition of an evening walk or bike ride.

Camping is not only a great way to spend a weekend with your kids, it naturally lends itself to vigorous activities such as hiking, swimming and canoeing. Get your kids involved in everything from putting up the tent to collecting firewood; it's all hard work.

Did you know? Barefoot is best
Simple activities such as walking and riding bikes are not only easy to integrate into your lives, they also don't come with a high price tag. Less is better when it comes to footwear, too. According to Serena Granzotto, a chiropractor and physical education teacher in Toronto, the best footwear for kids is no footwear. When a child is barefoot, muscles and ligaments in the foot are developed, and sensory information from the nerves in the skin help improve proprioception, which is the awareness of where we are in the space around us.

We all benefit in the long run
According to Lum, an investment in physical activity in the early years of your kids' lives will pay off in the long term. Even a marginal increase in physical activity could result in substantial savings for the Canadian health-care system. Surely this is reason enough to run, play, jump, dance and get outside with your kids and get your hearts pumping.

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How to incorporate more exercise into your kid's day

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