10 tips for getting your kids to be more active

10 tips for getting your kids to be more active

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10 tips for getting your kids to be more active

Just seven percent of five- to 11-year-olds and four percent of 12- to 17-year-olds get the federal government's recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Regular physical activity promotes cardiovascular fitness, strength and bone density. It also lowers the risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We polled health experts, advocates and Canadian Olympians for their top tips to get kids moving.

 1. Walk the walk
"As parents, it is our responsibility to set good examples for our children. If our children see us being active and having fun doing it, they will choose this way of life," says Lascelles Brown, an Olympic medallist in Bobsleigh and a dad of six. The good news: You don't have to be an elite athlete to inspire your kids. Just convey enthusiasm for and commitment to your Zumba sessions or lunchtime strolls.

2. Follow your child's cues
You might presume hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser's kid would be a hockey nut. Not at all. Wickenheiser's 13-year-old son "didn't want anything to do with hockey," says the Olympic medallist. "I encouraged Noah to get involved in something he had fun doing. It was important that he wanted to go and that it would be his thing. He chose swimming," says the proud mama.

3. Have silly fun!
For Pippa Whitfield, the six-year-old daughter of four-time Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield, stormy weather is cause for celebration. "We had a big windstorm the other day and Pippa and I threw on our jackets and ran up and down the waterfront park," says Whitfield. "We ran into the wind, then turned around and ran back. We were out there for an hour." If you look around, you'll find countless similar opportunities for tag, wrestling, or building snow forts. If your heart's racing and you're laughing, you're in the zone!

4. Walk to school
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of kids who got to school via car or bus increased from 51 to 62 percent. If kids walked or biked that daily trip, they'd spend an average of 15 to 20 extra minutes per day moving. This might not be achievable every day, but just a couple days per week makes a difference. Try leaving the car at home when taking your kids to the library or the local skating rink, too.

5. Put activity into context

Organized sports have a role to play, but it's the everyday activities that are the real game changers, says Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at Ottawa's CHEO Research Institute (and a dad of four). Kids should be "running, chasing the dog, playing hopscotch in the driveway, shooting hoops, shooting pucks—all those things they can do with no coach, no uniform, no score clock, no minivan," he says.

6. Let go a little
Kids have less freedom than ever to roam the outdoors, says Tremblay. "In the name of good parenting, [we] keep our kids ‘safe and sound' inside," and entertained by screens and an endless supply of snacks. This has become so much the norm that, as Tremblay puts it, "If you let your six- or eight-year-old go to the playground by themselves, neighbours are inclined to call social services about your ‘irresponsible parenting.'" So cut back on helicoptering. Boost your peace of mind by signing your kid up for a street-proofing course, and by encouraging them to play outside with friends.

7. Tap into your community's resources
Kids from lower-income families are less likely to participate in sports, and thus less likely to glean the physical and psychosocial benefits. Knowing this, a Hamilton, ON, mom named Sharon Gallant launched the FAB Girls 5K Challenge, a free running club for girls in Grades 6 to 8. You could try following her lead, or you could search your own community for similar free events. "There are many great organizations out there working hard to make sport and recreation accessible. Learn what is available in your community," says Gallant. Ask at local schools, recreation centres and nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, YMCA or YWCA.

8. Dress for success
When kids are dressed for winter, they're dressed to roll snowballs, make snow angels, leap from snowbanks, stomp on chunks of ice and snow, run and slide, and more," says Catherine Cameron, a Toronto mom of two and "Active Living Ambassador" for ParticipACTION, the national nonprofit dedicated to promoting active living. When kids are warm, they're also less likely to balk at walking to school or running errands.

9. Understand what motivates your children

"Some kids are motivated by team sports and competition, others by the social benefits of being part of a group, and some would rather do things on their own or with their family," says Gallant, an accomplished triathlete whose daughter, now 20, was never into team sports, preferring individual activities like in-line skating, skiing and golf. "Understand what motivates your kid and connect them to activities that match. You'll significantly increase the likelihood that they'll enjoy and continue the activity."

10. Reduce screen time
Turn off the television, put aside the smartphones and tablets and head outside. "By going hiking on the weekend instead of going to a movie, your children will value the same things in their lives," says Wickenheiser.

For more tips on how to stay healthy with your kids, check out these 6 fun outdoor winter activities.
This story was originally titled "Get A Move On" in the March 2014 issue.
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10 tips for getting your kids to be more active