Get Your Kids Off the Couch!

How to cut down on “screen time” and get your whole family fit and active

By: Adline A. Ghani

In 2011, The New York Times reported that children were spending way too much time in front of a screen — be it a television screen, computer, tablet, smart phone or game console. Two years on and the situation has not improved much!

Indeed, if you walk into almost any public space such as a shopping mall or restaurant, it is not unusual to see children and teens staring intently into some kind of electronic device even though they are surrounded by family and friends at the time.

The truth is gadgets and gizmos are undeniably important in today’s world. For one thing, they help keep kids calm and quiet. Digital games have been shown to provide good mental stimulation while social networks such as Facebook and Twitter work as excellent communication tools, creating instant access to friends and family. However, too much time spent with electronic devices can quickly lead to a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy habits for parents and their children.

So how do you “unplug” and get the whole family started toward a healthier lifestyle? Urban Health spoke to fitness leader Debbra Lee, owner of Fit For 2 — a workout studio specialising in exercise classes and healthy food for moms and their kids. Here, Debbra shares her expert insights and advice.

Limit screen time

First thing’s first, to start getting physically active, limit screen time for the entire family. You can do this by regulating television, computer and gaming time, as well as limiting the hours your older kids spend on their handphones. Limited access to screen time leads to more free hours for the family to take part in physical activity.

Show them the way

We live in an era when children are accustomed to seeing their mums and dads using electronic devices almost the entire time they are awake! According to Debbra, parents must lead by example if they want to see their kids become more physical. If the parents are active the kids will follow. This extends beyond physical activity, of course, and includes eating well and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking.

 Family time equals exercise

Can’t think of ideas to add more physical activity into your kids’ day? This problem is easier to solve than you might think! The trick is to weave it into family time. Debbra suggests going for long walks together — an activity that almost anyone of any age can participate in. The walks can also double up as an opportunity to bond as everyone will have a chance to slow down, talk to each other and be social outdoors.  She also says that being active with other people tends to help, as the “fun factor” is there and people look forward to seeing their friends.

Play Outside

Kids love to play and they can do it just about anywhere. As such, parents can make the most out of playtime by ensuring their kids go outside to enjoy physical games in a playground or pool. Feel free to join in as this means that you’ll be spending precious time with your kids and breaking a sweat to boot. It’s a win-win situation for all.

Mix it up

To make fitness fun for the entire family, Debbra suggests trying a variety of activities. From swimming, running, cycling and skating, to participating in adventure courses, there are so many activities out there to discover. You’ll soon find out which ones suit your family and lifestyle best. As your children get older, you can enroll them in classes such as tennis, soccer, dance or martial arts.

Know the benefits

A good way to motivate yourself to keep the family fit, is by getting to know the benefits of exercise for you and your children. Exercise not only helps prevent obesity, but it also increases energy levels and boosts the immune system. Moving your body heightens alertness and keeps anxiety and depression at bay. Additionally, physical activity helps build your children’s social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Despite the distractions of modern-day living, there’s no doubt that fitness should be a spotlight in family life, says Debbra. She adds that exercise is unavoidable if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Besides the many long-term health and physical benefits, adequate exercise also helps maintain our mental wellbeing.  Besides, it is a great way to good have fun together as a family!

Make Fitness Fun for Your Kids

Obesity among children is on the rise thanks to unhealthy eating habits and almost no exercise. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 3 decades.

These statistics show that more than any other time in history, it is absolutely essential to get children active from a young age. These six top tips will make fitness accessible and fun for little ones and help inculcate the fitness habit from an early age:

 •  Create less structure

While it’s great for children to be part of a physical education class or join a sports team at school, getting exercise in less structured ways, like playing tag, dancing, skipping and playing hopscotch, is far more exciting. This way, they are more likely to connect exercise to fun and to stick with it in the future.

Help them adopt a healthy attitude

Parents should avoid giving their children the impression that exercise is a chore. To save yourself from falling into this trap, encourage your kids to try activities based on their interests.

Make it an adventure

Playing outside is one thing but how about having an adventure? With a bit of creativity and a playful heart, parents can help turn bike rides, backyard play, roller-blading and nature walks into mini adventures!

Invite their friends

Does your kid have a best friend? Why not invite him or her to join in your family activity? Your child is more likely to have lots more fun in good company and may even be willing to try out new activities with a friend in tow

Rethink outdoor chores

Stuck for ideas? Not sure what else to do? Rethink outdoor chores.  For instance, gardening or car washing are errands that can become fun, physical exercise opportunities when the whole family joins in.

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