Make exercise a family affair, experts say

Parents should try to encourage their children to exercise by scheduling at least 30 minutes of family physical activities each day, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

Nearly one in five U.S. children is overweight, and the principle of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ should not apply when parents are encouraging their kids to be active, said Heidi Jo Hetland, a physical therapist and member of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Parents who simply tell their kids to go outside and play while they relax on the couch in front of the television are not setting a good example that kids are likely to follow, she said.

“Kids really follow what their parents do,” Hetland told Reuters Health. “If (exercise) is part of a regular family routine, then it’s more likely going to have a lasting impact.”

A wealth of research shows that kids get numerous benefits from regular exercise. For instance, being physically fit can cut the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, a traditionally adult disease that is now appearing in children.

Currently, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise and children exercise for at least 60 minutes during most days of the week.

Hetland offered the following tips to help parents integrate exercise into family life:

- Limit sedentary activities such as television and computers-both for themselves and their kids

- Plan ahead and set up family activities for the weekend, such as bicycling, hiking or bowling

- Organize daily walks after dinner or family games before dinner, such as a round of basketball

- Encourage children to try individual sports, such as swimming or tennis, which they can pursue for the rest of their lives

In an interview, Hetland said that parents should not feel that exercise has to involve a big expense, such as joining a gym. Rather, a simple obstacle course in the backyard or basketball hoop in the driveway may be all you need.

And while limiting time in front of the television is helpful, simply turning off the TV may not be enough, she said - so make sure that less time on the couch means kids are spending more time working up a sweat.

Hetland added that even parents who are not overweight need to exercise to stay physically fit, and kids who watch normal-weight parents make exercise a priority will likely learn a valuable lesson.

“I think that’s a good message for children - everybody needs to exercise,” Hetland said.

The American Physical Therapy Association, which represents 64,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and students, has posted its “Family Fitness Tips” at [url=][/url]

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD