The time has come when both parents and children’s lifestyles demand a major overhaul. More and more parents are becoming inactive due to the constraints of modern living and childrearing, while modern children generally spend more time immersed in technology than they do in active pursuits.

As many parents notice, today’s kids and teenagers often don’t have time to go outside to play and socialize with other kids. Computers, cell phones and text messages have become the main ways kids interact with their peers. Meanwhile, video games have replaced bike rides and basketball games with neighborhood friends. And when it comes to children and fitness, many parents mistakenly believe that they can rely on physical education and school sports to ensure their children exercise regularly. Unfortunately, even if kids participate in gym class and extracurricular exercise programs— many of which have been cut from school budgets— school ends relatively quickly in the span of one’s lifetime, as does the habit to exercise.

Parents can play an integral part in turning this unhealthy epidemic around— for both themselves and their children. Just like everything else, kids need to be taught how to exercise, as well as why fitness is good for them and how to follow an at-home exercise plan. As parents, we need to make time to exercise with our children on a regular basis. Nothing is more important than ensuring your children are healthy. Encourage healthy habits in your children by promoting exercise and good nutrition from the get-go.

Here are some tips for parents when it comes to creating a family fitness program that teaches the value and benefits of exercise.

  • It’s never too early to expose your child to exercise. As toddlers learn through observation, have toddlers see parents exercise regularly, whether at home or the gym. As toddlers get a little older, parents need to include them in exercise time. Taking walks together, riding bikes, playing outdoor games, doing calisthenics and even completing household chores can be considered exercise time.
  • Turn exercise into a valuable learning lesson by pointing out the virtues of physical activity. Tell children what is going on in their bodies as they “work out.”
  • Teach kids the benefits of exercise. Just 60 minutes each day of total exercise time can dramatically improve children’s health as they get older and further develop. The list of benefits of regular exercise routines increases almost daily with continued studies and scientific data. I recommend that children exercise six days a week for 30 to 60 minutes each day. However, exercise doesn’t need to be done all at once. I recommend breaking exercise up into six, ten-minute sessions, or bite-sized pieces each day. This feels more attainable than a big chunk of time for most contemporary kids and parents.
  • For pre-pubescent children, one of the greatest benefits of physical activity, particularly resistance training, is the increase in bone density. The increase in bone density significantly decreases a child’s risk for osteoporosis later on in life.
  • Explain to your children that in addition to strengthening their bones, exercise protects their hearts, the most important muscle of all. Teach them about the benefits to their immune system when they exercise regularly— that they will be less likely to get sick from the coughing kid next to them in school. And that by staying physically fit and eating right, children will be less likely to get serious sicknesses such as types of cancer.
  • Children who exercise will also have more energy, sleep better and do better on tests than their sedentary counterparts. Of course, active children also dramatically decrease their risk of becoming overweight, and thereby decrease their risk of developing a whole new set of problems that comes with obesity, including high blood pressure, arthritis and type 2 diabetes.
  • Praise children for maintaining an exercise regime. Motivate your kids to continue to exercise by complimenting them on their strength, balance and coordination. These are also benefits to working out that are important for children to understand. All children need positive reinforcement. Make sure you use age-appropriate language when teaching children about the power of exercise.
  • Find an activity that the whole family likes to do— then do it together. There are many simple activities that can contribute to a family fitness program, such as family walks, group sports, stair climbs, bike rides, outdoor games, swim sessions and gardening activities. Even household tasks present great ways to get the family exercising together. Turn on some music and dance around while vacuuming, or make a game out of family chores by prompting noncompetitive contests such as “who can carry in the groceries the fastest?” Find an activity, make it exciting, then get up and get moving!

Family fitness entices your child to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. As your child ages, exercise becomes a habit requiring no thought— it becomes a mere fact of life that just must be done, like brushing your teeth.

Practice what you preach, because parents need to truly believe in the power of active play and healthy habits in order to implement a family fitness program that works and lasts. Prolonging a child’s life so that he or she can live to a ripe old age without feeling the effects of “getting old” should be enough of an incentive for even the most steadfast couch potato parent to get up, get moving and give a child the gift of healthy living.

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