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May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Let’s Move! reports that nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. Yet, a 2013 report form the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that there is a trend towards decreased activity for youth. Lifestyles that include physical activity and good nutrition will help keep kids on the path to a more healthy and productive future. National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to help kids become more aware of the fact that physical activity and eating well promote a healthy lifestyle.
1. Go for a walk or a bike ride: The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve natural and cultural resources for enjoyment and education. Now that it is warmer outside, if you are close to a national park, get the whole family moving with a hike, or get out the bikes and visit a neighborhood park. Find parks and forests, local nature and outdoor events, and local playgrounds near you.
2. Play a new sport: Help kids learn more about a sport. See if your local community center has facilities and equipment for kids to try their hand at something new. Look for information that will explain to kids the game rules or gear needed. If kids aren’t enthusiastic about organized sports, see if swimming at a local pool is of interest, or they may prefer just kicking a soccer ball around, or playing catch.
3. Put on some music and dance: Show kids an easy way to get exercise is to put on music and dance. Ask them what kind of music they would like for a dance session, and turn on your radio, or, if possible, turn your tv to a music station and get moving! See if your kids can think up their own simple dance routine to demonstrate. Try online games to inspire dance moves too.
4. Sign up for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award: As part of The President’s Challenge program, this effort promotes incorporating physical activity and eating well into one’s lifestyle. Sign yourself and your kids up.
5. Keep a record of physical activity According to Lets Move! kids need 60 minutes of activity a day. Ask kids if they think they get a full hour a day and what they can do to ensure they’re getting enough exercise. Try making a daily schedule with your kids; for example, 15 minutes of running, 30 minutes of biking, and 15 minutes of jumping rope.
Or try a screen-time log where can kids can record how much time is spent with tv, video games, dvds, and a computer (other than homework). Have kids add up minutes and convert to hours. They may be surprised how many hours it is!
6. Find out more about nutritious foods: Talk to your kids about how good nutrition goes hand-in-hand with physical fitness. What kinds of foods are best to build bones and muscles—snack foods or foods with vitamins and minerals? Ensure your kids are off to a good day at school with a nutritious breakfast. In addition to conventional breakfast foods, try some more novel ones too! Help your kids learn about smart food choices with online games. Take your kids with you when you go grocery shopping and ask for their assistance on filling the cart with healthy foods. Or ask them for help in putting together a weekly menu.
7. Look out for calories: Let your kids know that a calorie is a measurement of energy. When you move, you use energy or calories. If you eat more calories than you use, you could gain weight. Ask your kids if it’d be a good idea to get all calories from snack foods—would such foods provide all the nutrients needed for building bones and muscles?
8. Make a healthy dish: Try a recipe from the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook, which contains 54 winning recipes from kids from each state and the U.S. Territories.
9. Focus on getting healthy muscles: According to Let’s Move!, the benefits of physical activity include the building of lean muscles and promotion of strong bones. Ask your kids to guess how many muscles they think we have in our body—-they may be surprised to know it’s more than 600! See if your kids know that the heart is also a muscle, and so it has to be kept in good shape too. Ask your kids what they can do to help keep their hearts in shape—if the heart is a muscle, would physical activity help?
10. Consider bone health: Kids may understand that exercising makes muscles stronger, but like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The National Institutes of Health likens bones to a bank—during childhood and teenage years, new bone is added (or deposited) to the skeleton faster than old bone is removed (or withdrawn). Let your kids know that bones need calcium, vitamin D, and physical activity to grow. Make a piggy bank out of a small bottle or small empty paper roll, and cut straws for bones. Each day after exercise, consuming vitamin D-rich foods like milk, or a calcium-rich food like yogurt, put a “bone” in the bank for each activity. Ask you kids if they are putting many bones in the bank each day.
11. Count heartbeats: Let kids know that a resting heart rate for a kid might be 80–120 beats per minute. Show kids how to put their fingers on their wrist and count the number of beats for one minute—appoint someone the timekeeper. Alternatively, have kids take their pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Do some jumping jacks and check again—subtract your first reading from the second to see how much faster the heart is beating after some exercise. Or try a more detailed measurement with a straw and piece of clay and record readings in a pre-fab chart.
12. Do some calorie calculations: Have your kids look in your pantry or on the grocery store shelves at various food items’ nutrition labels to get an idea of calories that different foods contain. Look at the number of calories for one serving—do all foods have the same number of calories? Take two or three foods and add up the calories you would consume if eaten. According to USDA, kids between the ages of 4 and 8 may need 1200–1400 calories a day. If a serving of one of your favorite foods is 400, how many calories do you have left? Would that be all you might be able to eat for one meal to stay within your calorie range?
13. Talk about portions: Serving sizes have tended to increase in recent decades. Help your kids understand the concept of portions by cutting circles out of paper and dividing into halves and quarters. Use something like NIH’s serving size card to help explain the concept of fractions as pertains to food servings.
14. Instill an awareness of fitness through books: Read books with your kids that focus on the benefits of physical fitness.
These are just a few of the ways to help kids grow up healthy and fit. Consider opportunities to ensure your kids’ health such as: taking the Let’s Move pledge, joining a Let’s Move meet up in your area, joining the Partnership for a Healthier America, or checking out preventobesity.net.