Move It or Lose It: Getting Your Kids to Exercise

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | June 28, 2016

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We pack healthy snacks in their lunchboxes, remind them to eat their vegetables during dinner, and tell them to go to sleep at a reasonable time. But what about exercise? Children who are physically active tend to perform better at school and have healthier self-esteem than those who aren’t, so it’s important to encourage them to play outside and keep on moving. After all, it’s our job as parents to make sure that our kids grow up healthy and strong!

When my 11-year-old son asked me for a fitness tracker, I became interested in finding out how much exercise he actually gets. Although he’s an active child who hardly watches television and never seems to stop moving, his first few weeks of tracked activities were very eye-opening. Even with 20 minutes of recess per day, two 30-minute gym classes a week, and hockey practice, he struggled to reach 10,000 steps each day unless he added a leisurely walk to his routine.

My son’s results made me realize how many hours of a child’s day are spent sitting – in class, in the car, at the kitchen table. Are we fostering inactivity as a culture? Can we do better? Research gives us plenty of reasons to put more effort into keeping our kids active. One of the many benefits of exercise is that it supports a healthy and developing brain. Children who get ample physical activity are able to better concentrate and improve their cognitive skills. They’re also less likely to become aggressive or develop other behavioral problems. Most importantly, exercise keeps our kids happy and healthy.

Active children set themselves up for healthy adolescence and adulthood. Exercising regularly at a young age gives them a head start in lowering their risks of diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Physical activity also builds and strengthens muscles and bones, while significantly reducing their chances of becoming obese. Exercise improves both the physical and mental health of children, so doesn’t it make sense to schedule more activities into their days instead of making them sit in class for long periods of time?

There are many ways for schools to encourage their students to stay active. Teachers can get creative when including physical activities into their class schedules – from walking outside while discussing the books they’re reading to starting the day off with a fun game of dodgeball. There are even more ways to keep your kids active outside of school. They can join a local youth sports team, bike around the neighborhood, play tag with the kids next door – the possibilities are endless. What matters most is that your kids keep on moving.

It’s never too early to get your children into the habit of staying active. For us, exercise might seem like a task we squeeze into our busy schedules. For them, it’s a chance to go outside and play. And while they’re having fun, you can rest easy, knowing that your kids are getting the exercise they need to continue doing their best in school, all while staying healthy.

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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