Fake Your Way to a Good Sweat
Want to stay fit for life? Find activities you truly enjoy, and display your enthusiasm after a good workout. Not feeling it? Pretend. "We want to show kids that fitness is fun," says Jack. "Nothing motivates kids more than a fun challenge and a fired-up leader." When exercise was fun or playful, 83 percent of overweight, obese, and severely obese children did it consistently, report U.K. researchers. Kids who took part in 10 weeks of sports and games viewed exercise more positively and were more likely to engage in fitness activities again.
Kickstart Their Confidence
Overweight kids who are taunted are two to three times more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. But perhaps what's most disturbing is that parents and siblings-not just school bullies-frequently tease overweight kids; 32 percent of them experience verbal abuse. Even as their psyches are being wounded, so are their bodies. "The more social and emotional problems kids have at school, the less likely they are to become involved in activities and sports," says social psychologist Robert Crosnoe, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin.
Make Exercise a Reward, Not a Punishment
If you've ever watched "fat-to-fit" reality shows, you've witnessed running and pushups performed as punishment. "It's absurd," says Liston. "If you punish kids with exercise, how can they ever love it?" Likewise, if the only time you exercise is the Monday after a dissolute weekend, then you will associate exercise with painful payback. Remember, exercise is something you and your kids should do for fun. Your dog wags his tail before a walk; build that sense of anticipation into activities you pursue and suggest to your kids.
Kindergarten students gain more weight when they're not in school, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health. In the study, body mass index (BMI) rose twice as fast when kids were on summer vacation than when they were in school. So whether it's Thanksgiving break or just a long weekend, parents can help children stay fit by standing in for their gym teacher. You'll all exercise more.
Make Your Gym Portable
Ever try to keep up with a 3-year-old? It's interval training at its most challenging. That's why a playground can be a perfect training ground. Jack suggests beginning with racing up the slide and sliding down. Do this five times. Then push your little guy on the swing as an "active rest" period. Next, do as many chinups as you can at the bars, or climb ropes together. Then knock out a few sets of pushups with your hands or feet on a beam or slide. If he's young and light enough, have him sit on your back while you do pushups. Finish by jumping onto the benches and racing around the playground.
Exercise can be its own reward-it activates brain reward pathways that act like antidepressants. But kids may need a little added encouragement. "Remember what it was like to win a trophy or go out for ice cream as a kid? It really meant something," says Jack. Integrate rewards into your active weekend when you think the kids need a boost. They'll associate that tough bike ride with the delicious fruit smoothies you serve afterward.
Feed kids fresh ideas to teach them fitness fundamentals, says Grasso. But this isn't spring training. Just improvise and have fun.
Day 1: All you need is a ball and a little creativity. Throw a football, catch a baseball, kick a soccer ball, or whack a tennis ball against a wall. Use old tires for targets, as you might see in a football skills competition. Even a game of catch has social and physical effects.
The benefit: Develops agility and hand-eye coordination.