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For many kids, biking to the playground and playing kickball in the backyard have given way to watching television, playing video games and spending hours online. But it's never too late to get your child off the couch. Use these simple tips to give your child a lifelong appreciation for activities that strengthen his or her body.
Set a good example
Your active lifestyle can be a powerful stimulus for your child. If you want an active child, be active yourself. You can't just "talk" activity — you need to make activity a priority for yourself as well. Go for a brisk walk, ride your bike or take a yoga class. Better yet, invite your family to play catch or to join you on a walk. Talk about physical activity as an opportunity to take care of your body, rather than a punishment or a chore. Praise, reward and encourage activity. You might even set goals and have everyone track their activities and progress.
Wonder how much physical activity is enough? Consider these guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services:
Kids. Children and adolescents age 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity. Most of the hour should be either moderate or vigorous aerobic activity. In addition, children should participate in muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week. Many classic activities — such as playing on playground equipment and jumping rope — cover all the bases at once.
Adults. Most healthy adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or swimming, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running — preferably spread throughout the week. Adults also need strength training exercises at least twice a week.
Limit screen time
A surefire way to increase your child's activity level is to limit the number of hours he or she spends in front of a screen — including television, video games and online activities. For example, you might consider a limit of one or two hours a day and, for a better night's sleep, no screen time in the hour before bed. To make it easier, don't put a television in your child's bedroom, don't watch television while you're eating dinner, and restrict computers and other electronic gadgets to a family area. Also consider limiting other sedentary activities, such as text messaging or chatting on the phone.
If your child plays video games, opt for those that require movement. Activity-oriented video games — such as dance video games and video games that use a player's physical movements to control what happens on the screen — boost a child's calorie-burning power. In a Mayo Clinic study, kids who traded sedentary screen time for active screen time more than doubled their energy expenditure.