With children having unprecedented access to video games, computers and social media, the temptation to lead a couch potato lifestyle has become greater than ever.
That means it’s even more important to instill good exercise and nutrition habits into children at a young age, area health and fitness experts agree.
Erik Carpenter, an operations supervisor and certified personal trainer at Franciscan Alliance Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville, says a good first step is to encourage children to be active.
“Habits learned when we are younger tend to be easier to carry over into adulthood,” he says. “If you learn as a child that staying active and healthy is important, then it is much easier to continue a healthy trend instead of trying to break bad habits as we get older.”
Research shows that good nutrition and plenty of exercise are the foundation for healthy growth and development as well as overall well-being, says Patty Grill, a personal trainer at Fitness Pointe in Munster. They can also help prevent a wide variety of health issues.
Sedentary activities like watching television or playing video games can lead to excessive snacking as well, says Brian Pelzel, lead trainer at Fuel Fitness in Schererville. That’s why teaching about nutrition is also important.
“Introduce as many fruits and vegetables as an early age as possible,” Pelzel says.
Grill agrees. She says making healthy snacks available and eating together as a family make a big difference.
“Leave apples, bananas and oranges out on the counter,” she says. “Eat healthy well balanced meals yourself. Introduce new foods and let your children help you plan and shop for the food.”
But getting kids on the right track doesn’t have to be a chore — there are plenty of fun things families can do together without it even seeming like exercise.
Weather permitting, families can do things like take a walk after dinner, go to the park, go to the zoo, or play catch.
“Anything, as long as you’re moving, is going to be beneficial,” Carpenter says.
When the weather is poor, it’s tougher, but not impossible. Head to the museum or an indoor activity center, or go to the mall and walk.
“Always try to lead by example and stay active yourself,” Carpenter says. “If your kids see you doing it, then it’s much easier to get them to do it.”
Grill suggests making the activity into a competition.
“See who can do the most pushups, sit ups or jumping jacks,” she says. “Or turn on music and dance.”
Playing sports with friends can be a fun alternative to exercise.
“If your child doesn’t like to run, maybe it’s because they just don’t want to run in a straight line on a track or a treadmill,” Carpenter says. “Sign them up for activities or athletics that will keep them moving, while adding that fun factor and help build self-esteem.”
The most important thing is for kids to have fun while they’re exercising, Carpenter says.
“One thing parents forget sometimes is to ask their kids what they enjoy or what their friends are doing. If all of their friends are playing soccer, but you are trying to get them involved in something else because you enjoy it they may be less enthusiastic,” Carpenter said. “Just because something interests you, doesn’t always mean it will interest them. Whenever kids can be around their peers and be active it really helps to keep them focused and coming back for more.”
The most important thing, Pelzel says, is to keep moving.
“Stay active and watch what you eat, and you’ll be okay,” he says.