Sitting at a computer all day is not healthy. As adults, we know this firsthand due to jobs where we spend 8-10 (or more) hours in front of a computer screen and can see and feel the negative impact of inactivity.
With a high amount of distance learning occurring for school again and restrictions on organized youth sports, kids are being exposed to the same stresses.
“It’s not like you’re going from class to class or going to do PE or recess. You’re basically stuck in place all day,” said Jeremy Frisch, who owns and operates a physical fitness gym. “The reasons to move are huge. It’s really important not just from a physical side but from a mental side because we know those two things are connected.”
“For kids, that’s what movement does is it help them mentally and emotionally (in addition to their physical health).”
And with the calendar turning to the coldest months of the year, kids may need extra encouragement to get the activity they need, which is at least 60 minutes a day. Here are a few areas Frisch, who has three kids of his own ages 7, 9 and 11, believes parents can easily enhance the amount of activity their kids get at home.
One of the best ways to add activity into the day for kids is to build it into their typical schedule at home.
“Rather than say, ‘you need to go outside for an hour and run around’, break it up into small parts,” said Frisch. “You do a little bit in the morning, a little at night and a little in the afternoon.”
“Years ago, I had worked on a program for students in class. It was 5-in-5. You do five exercises in five minutes, and you do that five times a day.”
The exercises featured simple movements such as balancing on one foot, holding a plank, squatting up and down or basic jumps that kids would do for 30-60 seconds and then move on to another one, with the goal of engaging their entire body before returning to school work.
It doesn’t need to be that structured though. Frisch also pointed to ideas like taking the dog for a walk, running around the house or block as examples of how there are numerous opportunities to move. We just have to commit to doing them consistently and doing it in 10-minute increments can make it easier to fit into our schedules.
“Before you know it, you can add up 40, 50 or 60 minutes of activity throughout the day and the kids probably wouldn’t even realize it,” said Frisch. “Think about that five days a week and that’s almost five hours of movement you got in throughout the week that you did in 10-minute spurts. That’s a lot of movement.”
Games, Games and Games
Once the school day is over, it’s important to remember that games are king. Finding ways to turn activities into some sort of game, race or competition increases interest and engagement for most kids.
“We went and bought one of the Nerf mini hoops,” said Frisch. “We set that up in our basement, and we play games of Nerf hoops. I go on my knees. The kids stand up, run around and shoot the ball. We’ll do little bursts of 20-30 minutes every night of that type of thing.”
Frisch also likes to do time trials, especially with his younger kids, where he’ll time them on different races through the house:
“You’re going to run upstairs, touch every bed in the house and run back down. How long did it take you? 20 seconds. Alright, let’s rest. Now, you’re going to run upstairs, touch the sink in the bathroom, run back down and do 10 jumping jacks. Next, you’re going to run to the basement, turn the light switch on in the basement, come back up here and do 10 squat jumps.”
Rough and Tumble
When it comes to playing inside, it’s common to be nervous about certain types of play, especially running, wrestling or any type of rough housing, but those activities also have some of the greatest benefits for kids.
“Sometimes as parents, we don’t want to hear them wrestling because someone is going to get hurt,” said Frisch. “The reality is nine times out of ten they’re probably not going to get hurt, and if you look close, they’re usually having fun. Most of the time they’re not really fighting unless someone is really screaming. Rough and tumble play is really good because it teaches you empathy.”
“That type of activity engages all the senses. You use your muscles more by wrestling and rolling on the ground. It taxes your vestibular system, which is your balance system inside your inner ear. Some of those things don’t ever get tapped into unless you do those activities. For me, it’s a child’s first way to learn how to strength train. You’re pushing and pulling and falling and squatting and getting up. You develop so many different senses and physical capacities.”
Engaging in rough or risky play also helps prepare kids for contact sports as they develop body awareness and control as well as contact confidence.
Embrace the Outdoors
And if they get to a point where they’re crossing the line playing inside, encourage them to go and play outside, even in the winter. Not only is it important from a physical health perspective but helping kids discover a range of enjoyable outdoor winter activities will aid their mental and emotional well-being for years to come.
“I have no problem making the kids go outside or going outside with them to shoot some hoops or do some type of activity in the driveway,” said Frisch. “It might be a little chilly at first, but once your body temp starts to rise, you start sweating and as long as you have the appropriate clothing on, I think you will be fine. It’s great for kids.”
“If the conditions are right, playing in the snow is great. Snow football? You can’t beat it. Or pond hockey in the winter, that’s awesome too! All of those things are on the table for kids to go out and do. As a parent or adult taking care of kids, we have to encourage them to do those things.”