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Surefire Ways to Foster a Healthy, Delightful Relationship To Physical Health for Your Offspring

Upon crossing the finish line of a race, runner Shannon Brady faces an additional challenge: her 1 and 2-year-old daughters don her sweaty sunglasses and engage in their own impromptu race around the house. Brady, an ardent runner along with her husband, prioritizes demonstrating the enjoyment of physical activity to her daughters through their own participation. “My husband and I are fervent runners, and we make certain that [our daughters] witness us lacing up and relishing the activity,” shares Brady.

Similar to Brady, many parents aspire to impart the pleasure of physical fitness to their children. A 2022 survey conducted by the fitness brand Life Time revealed that 89 percent of parents cherished engaging in outdoor recreation and sports with their kids, while 80 percent expressed a desire to motivate their young ones to engage in more physical activity to boost their fitness. Therefore, how do we cultivate a passion for movement in the upcoming generation?

This is an essential query since evidence indicates that our current method of nurturing active children may not be efficacious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposes that children aged 6 to 17 should engage in at least one hour of exercise per day, yet only approximately 24 percent of children fulfill this criterion. Despite the incontrovertible physical benefits of physical activity, children’s fitness routines have gradually declined in the years following the pandemic. Initiating physical activity from a young age may deter heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis, among other health issues. Moreover, regular exercise has been found to alleviate anxiety, enhance mood, bolster self-esteem and cognitive function, and aid children in coping with stress.

However, with regard to instilling an affection for running, cycling, swimming, and other activities in our offspring, clinical health psychologist Sarah-Nicole Bostan, PhD, asserts that the emphasis ought to be on cultivating an appreciation for the feeling rather than the benefits of the workout. “Teaching children to value their bodies and the numerous opportunities that a strong, agile body provides—regardless of weight or shape—sets the foundation for a sustained positive rapport with physical activity, even in a society where the focus is often misdirected towards physical outcomes or appearance,” she suggests.

Cultivating Your Children’s Attitude towards Physical Health

Outlined below are four approaches that parents can adopt to instill a favorable connection with physical activity in their children.

1. Set a Precedent

Studies demonstrate that youngsters mimic their parents to acquire new skills and adapt to societal norms. Therefore, a child who witnesses their parents engaging in physical activity may feel inclined to join in. “As per social learning theory, children predominantly acquire new behaviors through observation and imitation,” explains Dr. Bostan. “Hence, caregivers are not doing their kids any favors by neglecting their own self-care or daily physical activity routines. In fact, children learn when they are welcomed as active participants [in sports] and provided the opportunity to observe a healthy relationship with exercise.” Furthermore, how you discuss your daily physical activity further contributes to modeling fitness for your child. If your aim is to raise a child who relishes physical activity, expressing the reasons for your enjoyment can go a long way. However, it is essential to emphasize the emotional benefits of physical activity rather than the metrics. For instance, “I relish the liberating sensation while swimming in the pool.”

Molly Prospect, a resident in Hartford, Connecticut, brings her 18-month-old son to spectate races, including her husband’s marathons. “We strive to integrate him as an active participant in the marathon process, whether it involves supporting my husband on training runs, attending the expo, or cheering with cowbells on race day,” she explains.

However, it is unnecessary to partake in a full marathon to illustrate the power of physical activity to your child. Beside accompanying her in races, Brady ensures that her daughters have numerous role models for physical activity around them to exemplify what children’s fitness can encompass at all age levels. “We take them to local high school girls’ volleyball and basketball games whenever we can,” shares Brady. “At this point, their attention span lasts only about 30 minutes, but I believe it is important and enjoyable for them to witness other girls being active and collaborating as a team.”

2. Foster Playful and Adaptable Physical Activity

While there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from taking sports seriously, such as the importance of resilience, commitment, and supporting teammates, emphasizing physical activity as play ultimately fosters an enduring affection for exertion. This outcome is pivotal in nurturing a healthy relationship with physical activity. “At times, children who possess natural athleticism are encouraged to pursue hobbies that align with greater movement, whereas children who may not exhibit athleticism or exhibit challenges with balance, coordination, and speed are discouraged from participating in organized sports,” notes Dr. Bostan. “In truth, both groups benefit from daily physical activity.”

Sarah Lester, a pediatrician and mother to four children aged 16 to 22, contends that sports practices should evoke the ambiance of a series of games (particularly prior to reaching high school age). “Ultimately, these games entail substantial movement,” she emphasizes. “Telling a young child to run a mile is unlikely to generate sustained interest.” Instead, activities such as capture the flag, skipping rope, and tag all encourage running and agility without the pressure associated with formal sports.

Do you have an aspiring dancer at home? Consider trying out this entertaining, follow-along hip-hop routine with your kids:

This priority on joy also extends to the type of physical activity children engage in. Although you might be tempted to encourage your child to emulate your preferred activities, it is essential to allow them to explore and discontinue activities that do not capture their interest. “You never know what children will enjoy, and frequently, the social aspect of physical activity is the primary allure for them,” points out Lester. “It could be a one-season endeavor, or it might mark the onset of a new passion.”

3. Avoid Fostering an Antagonistic Stance between Physical Activity and Screens

“As a parent, the contemporary challenge is to strike a balance between physical activity and the allure of technology,” remarks Hy Rosario, director of children’s footwear at Hoka, who contributed to the design of the brand’s children’s sneakers. “A positive aspect of the pandemic was that it compelled families to venture outdoors, whether it entailed a simple family walk to exercise the dog or embarking on a hike to break a sweat. Families were driven to ascertain ways to tend to their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Since children’s lives are progressively intertwined with screens, it is crucial to prioritize family outings in nature while maintaining an impartial dialogue about technology. “Meeting children at their level is pivotal in establishing enduring healthy habits as well as acknowledging their efforts early and frequently, regardless of the outcome,” advises Dr. Bostan. For instance, if your child is fond of video games, you could suggest a “live-action outdoor video game” and invite their friends to participate. Children’s fitness video games can also serve as an effective means to integrate screens and physical activity.

The goal is to avoid creating an adversary dynamic with technology in which it is perceived as ‘negative’ and physical activity as ‘positive.’ Over time, this approach could lead to children compartmentalizing screen time as a ‘reward’ and physical activity as a ‘punishment.’ Instead, encourage your child to engage in a diverse array of appropriate activities both online and offline.

4. Let It Flow Naturally

Plain and simple: you cannot compel someone to derive enjoyment from something. All you can do is introduce your child to an activity and assess their response. Even though Prospect’s son is not yet 2 years old, she has already contemplated her response if he does not mirror her fervor for sports. “I believe I would respect his decision but remind him that physical activity typically engenders positive feelings for all of us,” she muses. “I would encourage him to join me for a walk or toss a ball for the dog. Any form of encouragement to engage in physical activity without explicitly mandating it.”

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