Happy, healthy kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
From your child’s coordination and muscle development to ensuring he or she stays a healthy weight and disease free later in life, daily exercise is essential, says Allica Austin, an exercise physiologist in MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. It also will help set the foundation to make exercise a lifelong habit. As an adult, two-and-a-half hours of moderate physical activity a week can help you reap the benefits of exercise and lower your cancer risk.
For many parents, getting kids outdoors and active during the cold winter months is a challenge. But there are fun ways to help your children stay active.
It may take a little creativity—and some running around—on your part. But it’s worth it to ensure your kids get the exercise they need. “It’s healthy for parents, too,” Austin says.
Here are her eight best tips for keeping kids active when the weather makes outdoor play difficult.
1. Turn chores into challenges.
Household chores are a great way to get your kids up and moving. Ask them how fast they can clean up their room, or if they think they can collect all the trash in the house in less than a minute, Austin says. “Kids really respond to games and challenges,” she says. Turning every day activities into contests and games makes them more engaging and less like chores.
2. Train alongside your kids.
Children often do what their parents do, not as they say. “If you’re sitting on the couch and watching TV, they’re going to follow your example,” Austin says. Instead, include your kids in your exercise. When you do pushups or sit-ups, and ask your kids to count and cheer you on. Then, do the same for them. Or put on an exercise video that you and your kids could do together. “You’ll keep them active while demonstrating that exercise is important to you.”
3. Build forts.
Transform your couch into a fortress of pillows and blankets, or turn your rug into a putt-putt course with plastic cups. “Your kids don’t have to be running for it to qualify as physical activity,” Austin says. “They just need to be up and moving around.”
4. Try old-school games.
Search online for “minute to win it” games, Austin says. You’ll find dozens of fun, simple activities involving household items. One example for small children: Tie a carrot to their belt using a piece of string, and challenge them to lower it into a mason jar. It’s like doing squats, but more fun. “These types of games are entertaining and have health benefits,” Austin says.
5. Visit local gyms or pools.
“It’s hard for kids to sit still when they see other children running around and playing,” Austin says. Visit nearby indoor gyms, pools, gymnastics centers, or play areas that will be packed with playmates during cold or rainy days. If you’re out of ideas at home, these are great backup options.
6. Play active video games.
Yes, Wii and other stand-up-and-move video games count as physical activity. They’re a better choice than sedentary behavior for long periods of time, Austin says. So do classic table games like air hockey or foosball. Again, anything that gets your kids on their feet and moving counts toward that 60 minutes. “And you don’t have to get all of it at once,” she adds. “Breaking it up into blocks of 15 or 20 minutes spread throughout the day is fine.”
7. Enlist their help in the kitchen.
Whether you’re cooking a meal, putting away the groceries or emptying the dishwasher, anything you do in the kitchen can serve as activity for your tyke. She suggests asking your child to help you pull out the pots and pans, or to sort the pantry into alphabetical order. You can turn the time when they’d be sitting and watching TV into active time.
8. Go for outdoor hikes or walks.
Load up the car and head to your nearest park, nature preserve or forest. Snowy or cold conditions won’t bother your kids if they’re bundled up and on the move, Austin says. Plus, spending time outdoors in nature reduces stress and fights depression.
Motivating kids to exercise can sometimes seem more difficult than finding activities, Austin says.
“Whatever you do, don’t force them,” she says. You don’t want to make exercise seem like a punishment, or something they dread.
Try this: Talk enthusiastically about the fun activity you have planned for later in the day—whether it’s a gym visit or some household chores. “If you talk like it’s the most fun thing in the world, and you give them time to get excited for it, that helps drive their interest,” she says.
Also, give them choices. If you ask your children whether they want to make forts or go to the park, it usually won’t occur to them that doing neither is an option, Austin says.
Finally, after your kids have gotten some exercise, say things like, “Wasn’t that fun to run around?” or “I feel so great when I exercise.”
This will reinforce the idea that physical activity is something enjoyable, Austin says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.