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Publication #FCS8892

Raising Healthy Children: Family Fitness1

Lisa D. Chan, Ashley Hamm, and Karla P. Shelnutt2

The Obesity Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 18% of children in the United States are obese (2013a). This number is rising and is a concern for many parents. Childhood obesity can lead to serious future health problems including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. One of the main reasons many children become overweight is a lack of physical activity. Television, video games, and computer games (referred to as “screen time”) take up too much of our children’s daily lives, leaving little time for active play (Mitchell, Rodriguez, Schmitz & Audrain-McGovern, 2013).

Physical Activity Can Enrich Your Life

Does being active really make a difference? Yes! Physical activity can provide many health benefits for you and your family. It’s something everyone should do every day. Being physically active can improve your overall health, help the whole family manage their weight, and it’s a great way to spend time with your family (CDC, 2011).

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Benefits for Children

Regular physical activity can help children be healthier now and in the future. Daily activity can help your child maintain a healthy body weight and reduce his or her risk of developing diseases associated with obesity now and in the future.

Children who are physically active have more energy, better attitudes, and stronger muscles and bones than less active children (CDC, 2011). Activity also sends more blood to the brain, giving it oxygen and nutrients vital for brain function, which can help them in school. Plus, being involved in physical activity helps promote positive self-esteem and self-image in young children. The better they get at an activity, the better they’ll feel (CDC, 2013b).

Benefits for Adults

Physical activity is valuable for adults as well as children. Adults who exercise decrease their risk for developing diseases associated with aging such as dementia, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis (Bowen, 2012; CDC, 2011).

Besides lowering disease risk, exercise gives parents more energy. Having more energy means more motivation to play with your children! Plus, with your newfound energy, you can spend some time fixing healthy meals at home.

Physical activity has other benefits for adults. It can increase strength, balance, and flexibility, all of which impact overall health and quality of life. Exercise also can help busy parents cope with stress in a healthy way (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006).

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Make Family Time Healthy and Fun

There are many activities you can do as a family to increase everyone’s activity level and have fun! Try some of these games with your family or ask your kids for their ideas.

  • Play tag. This game is an old favorite people of every age can enjoy!

  • Take your kids to the park and chase them around the playground. The laughter will surely give your core a workout!

  • Play music your family enjoys and dance around the house. You can make a game out of it by pausing the music and freezing, or playing musical chairs!

  • Workout videos for kids can be fun and can get you and your child moving!

  • Head out on a family bike ride. Kids can also rollerblade or skateboard!

  • Join a gym or recreation center that provides exercise classes for parents and kids together.

  • Head to the local park and bring a variety of athletic gear—basketballs, soccer balls, and a bat and baseball, just to name a few.

  • If your child is still young, put him or her in a baby carrier or stroller and go for a walk.

  • If your child is part of a sports team, make time to practice a little bit with him or her every day.

Add Activity Everywhere

Even when you don’t have time for planned physical activity, there are ways you can work physical activity into your day.

  • At the grocery store, park far away from the front of the store so you get to take a little walk.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Your kids can pretend they are hiking up a big mountain!

  • When the kids are watching a TV show, have them get up during commercial breaks and do jumping jacks to get their heart rate up.

  • When you are getting your children ready for school in the morning, turn on some music and dance around the living room.

  • Set up a special section in your garden for your child. When you are out on Saturday morning working in the yard, your child can join you instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Be a Positive Role Model

As a parent you should model positive behavior for your children. Children are affected by TV, peers, and magazines so you need to set good examples for them at home. You can have a big impact in their life and on the choices they make.

Daily activity is important to your child’s health. Showing children that physical activity is something you value may make it important to them. If you make an effort to exercise every day, your children will notice. If you watch TV for hours each day, your kids will take note. Be a good role model. Encourage your children to establish habits that will get them moving and keep them active.

More Than Just Fitness

Physical activity will improve the health of your family, but it has other benefits as well. Doing physical activity as a family allows you to spend quality time with your children doing something that benefits you both. Family fitness time offers health benefits and strong family ties. Enjoy spending this valuable time with your family!

Recommended Websites

  • USDA’s MyPlate: This website explains USDA’s MyPlate food guide and how to apply its diet and physical activity concepts to your everyday life. http://www.choosemyplate.gov

  • Disney’s Spoonful: This website gives parents extensive ideas for crafts, recipes, games, holiday activities, and more. http://spoonful.com

References

Bowen, N. E. (2012). A prospective examination of the relationship between physical activity and dementia risk in later life. American Journal of Health Promotion, 26(6), 333–40. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.110311-QUAN-115.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011). Physical activity and health: The benefits of physical activity. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/

CDC. (2013a). Child obesity facts: Health effects of child obesity. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

CDC. (2013b). Physical activity and the health of young people. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/facts.htm

Mitchell, J. A., Rodriguez, D., Schmitz, K. H., & Audrain-McGovern, J. (2013). Greater screen time is associated with adolescent obesity: A longitudinal study of the BMI distribution from ages 14 to 18. Obesity Silver String, 21(3):572-5. doi: 10.1002/oby.20157.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). Your guide to physical activity and your heart. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/phy_active.pdf

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8892, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: December 2009. Latest revision: October 2013. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Lisa D. Chan, dietetic intern, Master of Science-Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Ashley Hamm, dietetic intern, Master of Science-Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; and Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.