Who knew summer could be a health hazard? Yet it is: As Layla O’Leary, outreach coordinator of the UVA Children’s Fitness Clinic, explains, whether it’s the heat, camp costs, or safety reasons, many families find summer to be a “sneaky pitfall. … While some kids do participate in camp and play outside, many, many kids do not. “
The result?: Kids who don’t move during summer vacation gain an average of seven pounds.
Weight gain like this fosters the kind of obesity that results in long-term, damaging health effects, as we learned in our blog post yesterday.
Of course, no one wants their kids to spend the summer in front of a television or computer screen, downing bags of chips and gaining weight. But it’s not always easy, especially for parents like myself who work full time, to come up with ways to keep kids active and fit.
Which is why I asked O’Leary and Angela Hasemann, registered dietitian for the UVA Children’s Fitness Clinic, for some ideas on how to help your kids – and yourself! – have an active and healthy season.
Family Fitness: 8 Ways to Make it Happen
1. Model desired behaviors. As most of us know, kids tend to listen to what we do more than what we say. So the first step to taking care of your children’s health is to take care of your own: Eat well, reduce the time you spend watching TV or surfing the net and exercise regularly. Your actions will speak volumes.
2. Introduce a family Olympics, or have weekly competitions. Make a chart for each family member to document weekly activities. The most active person at the end of the summer earns something special – like determining the family’s activities for a day. Better yet: Let your kids pick the winning prize.
3. Get active together. Take an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood, play at a park or toss a ball in the backyard.
Too hot? You can still get active. Try:
- Going for an evening swim or indoor swim lessons
- Throwing a dance party in your living room
- Turning your house into a circuit training gym, with stations for sit-ups, jumping jacks, bicep curls and gymnastics moves
Whatever the weather, Hasemann says to “Set a goal to sweat every day. The more sweaty the exercise, the more likely it is better for your heart.”
4. Toss the unhealthy foods out of your kitchen (chips, cookies, soda, ice cream, etc.). “This is a must if you plan on having your children at home on a daily basis during the summer,” says O’Leary. Stock up instead on fresh fruit – add a little whipped cream or blend into a smoothie for a delicious treat.
5. Talk about health issues with your children. Make it a recurring topic of conversation. If your kids see that you value your own health, they will learn to value theirs, as well.
6. Create a routine. Keep a structured schedule of activities. Relaxed structure results in less physical activity and more calorie consumption.
Make that after-dinner bike ride a regular thing; enforce weekday routines during the weekend.
7. Limit screen time to two hours a day max. Keep TV and computer games from being the default activity; instead, require kids to earn entertainment privileges by cleaning their rooms, helping out around the house, etc.
Can’t quit the TV habit? Take commercial breaks, suggests Hasemann. Stand up and move around, do sit-ups, push-ups, arm circles – anything to get your blood moving for a few minutes. Every little bit helps.
8. Include chores in your summer structure plan. “If your children are old enough to stay home alone, then they are also responsible enough to take on some house chores,” says O’Leary. And some duties – like mowing the lawn, for instance – count as physical activity, too.
Putting it in Action: Daily Consumption by the Numbers
How much is the right amount? O’Leary and her team recommend:
- 5 fruits and veggies per day
- 1 hour minimum of physical activity
- 0 sugary beverages
With a little planning and effort, you can set up a structure and goals for the whole family that work for whatever resources you have.
As O’Leary says, “Summer is a great time of year to make healthy changes at home. Soon there will be the rush of school, projects, tests, then come the holidays and before you know it … another year has come and gone. Take advantage of having your child’s attention.”
Keep Your Kids Fit
Need help setting up a plan for your family? It’s not too late. UVA’s Nutritional Counseling Center offers nutritional education and counseling by a pediatric nutritionist. UVA’s Children’s Fitness Clinic offers a medical-based approach where families have access to a nurse practitioner and registered dietitians.
Talk to your child’s doctor about which program to choose or call 888.882.9892 to make an appointment with either UVA program.