HEALTH BEAT: Help your family spring off the couch and into motion

Published 8:41 pm Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring is upon us, and if you have been considering trying to help your family be more active, now is a great time. Not only is exercise great for your heart, it also boosts energy, helps you sleep better and improves mood.

Children need at least one hour of active play a day. At least three days should include vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, jogging, or riding a bike fast or on hills. Adults should aim for at least two hours and 30 minutes each week, or about 20 minutes a day, of aerobic physical activity at a moderate level, and strength training at least two days a week. Moderate level activity includes walking fast, riding a bike on level ground, or pushing a lawn mower. Another option is to increase the intensity for less time — at least one hour and 15 minutes each week. Activities need to be age-appropriate, include variety, and be fun. Finding activities that you and your family enjoy make the active time one to look forward to on busy days for a refreshing break.

The first step is determining how to make this work for your family. Where can you fit in activity, and how can you find things your family enjoys? Start by finding where you might be able to weave activity into your family’s daily routine. Park farther away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and bike to the library or a friend’s house with your family instead of driving. Even short bouts of activity have benefits so taking ten minutes to walk a trail at the school or heading to a park to play and hear about your kids’ day could start a habit that relieves stress, improves health and creates a special bond with your kids.

Make family time active time. Choose a time when your family is already together, and plan activities that might spark your family’s interest. Start a new family tradition this March — maybe it is going for a bike ride, walking the dog, playing catch after dinner, going to the park on Saturdays, or starting “We’re Walking Wednesdays.” Rainy days are perfect for dance parties, an exercise DVD, an indoor scavenger hunt, or game of hopscotch. Make chores fun by turning on the radio and dancing, or race with your kids to see how fast you can complete the tasks.

Use play-dates and birthday parties as opportunities for fun activity, such as going bowling, the skate track, or Goose Creek State Park or have a field day in your backyard. When gifts are involved, whether it’s Easter, birthdays or rewards for good behavior, choose things that promote activity. Great options include everything from a new bike, dance video, or a pedometer to count steps, to a ball, jump rope, hula hoop, or Frisbee from the dollar store.

March is also the time to consider getting your kids involved in planting a garden. Not only does gardening help with activity, but studies have found that kids who are involved in growing their own food have better diets and are more likely to try new fruits and vegetables.

Another great step, no pun intended, is simply to get off the couch and away from the screen. Studies have found that over two hours of screen time, including computers, phones, tablets, TVs and video games, a day for kids means lower grades and decreased health and also negatively affects their physical, social and behavioral wellbeing. Cutting back on screen time offers multiple benefits such as increased sleep, less aggression and lower body mass indexes (BMI). Start by keeping TVs out of bedrooms and turning off the TV during meals.

When you do decide to watch TV, use commercial breaks to squeeze in activity. Do a few jumping jacks or pushups or have your child make up a short activity routine for your family to follow. Short periods of activity add up to big benefits.

If you get resistance from your family to be more active, remind them how it helps make them strong and gives them more energy. Ask if they will try it for two weeks and see how they feel, and let them choose ideas that sound fun to them. It is worth the effort; the benefits truly are worth “catching.”

Andrea Nikolai is registered dietitian at Washington Pediatrics of Washington.