Healthy Kids: How to Get Children Excited About Fitness

Kids today run slower and have less cardiovascular endurance than their parents did at the same age. A recent study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013 revealed that there has been a significant decline in the cardiovascular health of children over the past 50 years. According to the research, modern kids have approximately 15 percent less cardiovascular fitness than their parents did as children. That is certainly an alarming trend and one that the AHA says may suggest poorer health for tomorrow's adults.

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However, while it's alarming, it probably isn't surprising. Most schools now provide very little, if any, physical education. The current state of educational priorities has resulted not only in more class time and homework but also, for many kids, more "free time" being utilized for things like test prep and extra tutoring. Meanwhile, computer technology has grown to fill progressively more of our recreation time—whether it's through video games, the internet, or TV and movies. Our culture increasingly values sedentary activities.

Naturally, this shift is a concern to many parents eager to make sure their kids are fit and healthy. To help get your children excited about fitness, try the following three ideas.  

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Model a Fit Lifestyle

Kids are brilliant imitators. It's one of their main ways of learning. If you want your children to be excited about fitness, you need to be excited about it. Take a look at your lifestyle and relationship with exercise. Do you regularly pay attention to your own fitness? It can be as hard for adults as it is for kids. And are you often excited about exercise—do you engage in physical activities that you actually enjoy? Or do you usually think of exercise as a burden? Children use us as examples for how to live as adults. We want to live the lessons we are trying to teach.

Play With Your Kids

One of the easiest ways to get kids excited about something is to do it with them. Children love playing with their parents. Increase the value of physical activity for your kids by playing games of tag or catch with them—these games will become more meaningful for all of you.

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Focus on Fun

To get a kid—or even an adult—excited about fitness, she needs to be having fun. An eight year old is unlikely to get much pleasure out of a long monotonous jog, but she may be thrilled to chase a soccer ball for hours. Find a sport that your child is excited to play. Then make sure you remember that it's all about her having fun.

A 30-year long informal survey of college athletes revealed that their worst memories of playing sports as children were receiving negative comments from their parents. As well intentioned as they may be, critical remarks from parents about a child's play ("You need to show more hustle", "You didn't have enough focus", "You know you're not supposed to do that") can be incredibly counterproductive. The same surveyed showed that the comment kids want to hear most from their parents is simply, "I love to watch you play." When you show them that the fact that they're playing is enough, they will love doing it even more.

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About the Author

Jason Sheridan, owner of Sheridan Fencing Academy in New York City, coaches the 2013 Junior World Championship silver medalist, along with many of the other top fencers in the US. He specializes in developing high-level youth athletes by emphasizing the fun—and eliminating the monotony—in exercise and training.

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