Encourage fitness by engaging the family in physical activity.

In a world dominated by fast food and video games, an unwelcome side effect is the increase in obesity levels in children, writes Sacha van Niekerk.

When it is simply easier to allow your child to veg out in front of the television, it can be difficult to find the balance between keeping your kids active and giving in to the grasp of technology. Biokineticist in a private practice in Glenwood and Morningside, Beverley Peters said, “The challenge facing most parents is striking that balance between both worlds.  Whatever the reason, it can be tough to motivate a child when they are lost to technology and ‘angry birds’ or ‘subway surfer’ is preferred to playing outdoors.”

Parents are responsible for their children’s inactivity. “Whether the parent is an active or passive participant, a conscious decision has to be made to begin the transformation process. This can only unfold when parents make a paradigm shift to change their thinking,” said Peters.

Old school thinking cannot solve modern day physical activity challenges, said Peters who suggests using more intuitive and creative approaches to health and wellness. “Parents are the vital cog in impacting the change desired to shift a child from couch potato to active child,” she said.

Peter’s guidelines for incorporating a more intuitive and creative approach to health and wellness:

Join the game

Encourage fitness by engaging the family in physical activity. Outings can take the shape of hikes, nature walks, and mountain biking or paint ball. These activities don’t just get you moving but it gets you outdoors and communing with nature. Bounce and trampoline parks are now commonplace to assist with getting children active. Utilize them.

Colour outside the lines

Not all children are drawn to structured exercise and sport. Search for other activities that will interest your child and have a fun element like ice skating, skateboarding, dancing, rock climbing, surf swimming, surfing or martial arts and provide the exposure. It’s important to get your child moving, not just for today but for a lifetime.

Immerse your child in a conducive environment that ignites the desire to be active

This could mean having a few fun items lying around like exercise balls, foam rollers and balance boards. A trampoline is a great investment, is fun and stimulates balance and coordination.

Positive reinforcement

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. My suggestion is that every step be acknowledged to spur them on

Create a routine

School, meal times, homework, play dates all follow some semblance of a routine and scheduling, physical activity should also be penciled in. Physical activity can be addictive, it just needs to be cultivated to become a habit. Habits don’t form overnight. Parents are tasked with finding the best path on this journey with their children.

Get sneaky

Find ways to ‘sneak in ‘movement with everyday activities. Like dropping them off at school some distance away from the entrance, climb the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. Have birthday parties in the park with a jungle gym and the like. Laser tag can be the social around birthday celebrations as well. Set rules for screen time that incorporate an element of play or exercise (the exercises that follow will give you some ideas)


Seven creative ways for kids to exercise:

1. Wall sit while tossing ball 10 x or practicing 10 music notes on your violin. Target: Muscular endurance - lower body.
2. Single leg standing whilst playing throw with someone or practicing for Spelling Bee. Target: Balance and stability.
3. Physio ball sit whilst reading or watching Dora the Explorer. Target: Core stability
4. Lying on back or on tummy over Physio ball. Target: flexibility
5. Plank in push up position whilst sipping your favorite fruit juice from a super tall fun water bottle with a long straw. Target: Core stability and muscular endurance - upper body.
6. Back bridge whilst tossing and catching a ball. Target: Core stability and hand-eye coordination.
7. Jumping on trampoline -10 minutes. Target: cardiovascular endurance and balance and coordination

Zelda Ackerman, registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson provided seven tips for children under 12 who are lethargic and need to be motivated to engage in healthy lifestyle choices:

  • Set limits on screen time. Less than 2 hours per day. Do not allow any eating in front of the TV.
  • Play with your children and do fun activities like riding bicycle or playing in a park in spare time instead of sedentary activities like watching TV.
  • Establish a good routine with fixed meals and snacks. Proper sit down meals at the table help to prevent unhealthy snacking between meals.
  • Get sugar sweetened beverages out of your house. Do a family challenge: see who can be the first to cut out sugar from tea and coffee.
  • Have a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables at home.
  • Make eating fresh fruit and vegetables easy: have a bowl of fruit salad or vegetable crudite ready for snacks.
  • Avoid buying unhealthy food or snacks.

DISCLAIMER: If your child’s ribs are not visible he or she is most probably overweight. Following these guidelines is a start, but cannot replace professional medical care. A proper consultation with a registered dietician who has experience working with obese children as early as possible is important as overweight or obese children take a number of years to grow into an ideal weight.