We’ll surely return one day to the courts, fields, rinks, and gyms, but for now the future of youth team sports is uncertain. Social distancing restrictions have been lifted in some areas but only recently imposed or reimposed in others, so it may be some time before school locker rooms are filled with kids again. Yet, while your children’s school and sports clubs may be on hold for now, there are still plenty of ways to keep your family active.
Why Exercise Matters
Sports give your children an outlet for using up their extra energy, and there are several important health benefits of regular physical activity for kids and teens. The CDC reports that for children, routine exercise:
- Boosts cardiorespiratory wellness
- Supports strong bones and muscles
- Helps to maintain a healthy weight
- Controls symptoms of depression and anxiety
Staying fit can also minimize the risk of many serious conditions, including heart disease, certain types of cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. The benefits may even extend into other areas of a child’s life. For example, teens who engage in sports may be less likely to smoke, drink, or do drugs. Exercise can also improve a child’s self-esteem and improve their ability to focus, which could help them do better in school.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), routine exercise should begin in children as young as infants. Babies can get 30 minutes or more of “tummy time” each day, while children ages three to five should have at least three hours of physical activity per day. Children who are six or older should get an hour’s worth of exercise most days of the week, including vigorous exercise at least three days a week.
Unfortunately, even before COVID-19 restricted our options, we’d all become less active. Smartphones have captured the attention of all generations, and young children and teens are no exception. Screen time is replacing what would normally be playtime. Now, with most team sports on hold during the pandemic, children may become even more sedentary if parents don’t intervene.
Your Physical Fitness Matters Too
Encouraging your children to get active even when they can’t get to practices or games can help them build a habit of physical fitness that stays with them through adulthood. But what about your fitness? Parents need exercise too, for many of the same reasons children do. According to the CDC, adults who exercise regularly have better brain health and weight management, along with stronger muscles and bones. Exercise also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Working out can even deliver mood-boosting benefits by releasing endorphins. During stressful times, supporting your mental health is more important than ever.
Ideally, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This breaks down to 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week.
Creative Ways to Get Exercise
Even though we may not see a typical sports season for a while longer, you can still help your children burn through their excess energy and maintain their fitness year-round. Here are a few ways you all can stay active:
- Create a backyard “obstacle course.” Set up child-friendly obstacles like a crawl tunnel, hopscotch, balance beam, and ball toss. (You can even adapt this to a large room if you don’t have access to a yard. Just mind the breakables!) Time your little ones and encourage them to beat their own records.
- Have a family game night. Let children take turns deciding which game you’ll play together. Frisbee, capture the flag, driveway basketball, and backyard kickball are all good ways to use up some energy.
- Take to the trails. Hiking can be an excellent cardiovascular activity, but it also appeals to children’s curiosity. Grab a trail map and head to a new spot in the woods to immerse the family in nature while discovering new sights.
- Go for a family bike ride. Whether it’s through the streets of your neighborhood or at a park nearby, you can get a cardio session in by pedaling your way around. (Make sure you’re all wearing helmets and minding any cars, of course.)
- Take an after-dinner walk. The one upside of sports cancellations is that everyone is more likely to be home for family meals. Take advantage of the time the kids are spending at home by going for a stroll after dinner.
- Head to the lake (or beach). The busy tourist season tends to slow down by early fall, but the weather is still plenty warm in many places for your favorite water-based activities. Paddle boarding and swimming are both excellent full-body activities that will get the blood flowing.
- Have a family yard work day. Many hands make yard work easier, and it’s good exercise too. Challenge your children to pick up as many sticks as they can on lawn cleanup day.
- Bring fitness into daily routines. Throughout your day, consider other creative ways to get active as a family. Watch your favorite show together, but do jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Or if you’re headed to the grocery store together, park at the back of the lot and count the steps it takes to get to the door.
Keep Your Family Active & Healthy
Regular physical activity is an important way to keep your family healthy, but it’s only one piece of the wellness puzzle. Your children should still have their annual physicals, even if youth sports are on hold. You can schedule physical exams for your family with your neighborhood doctor at United Physician Group Family Medicine. (Strict COVID-19 prevention protocols are in place to keep you safe.) Your doctor can also guide you on well-rounded practices for your family’s good health both now and for a lifetime. Make an appointment today.