by Manuela Di Franca
I was pedaling hard on my pink bike, my face shining with joy, as I rode up and down the street enjoying the summer breeze. I felt like the luckiest girl on earth! I wanted the whole neighborhood to know that I had gotten my first bike with training wheels. My mom stood there at the fence watching me and cheering me on. When we went to visit some friends or rode to the grocery store, my mother would always take me with her on her bike in a child bike seat, which was mounted below the handlebars or on the bike rack in the rear.
My dad was the one who taught me how to swim. Every summer we would spend our two-week vacation at the Mediterranean Sea. I would put on my red water wings and race with him to the water. Soon I became a water bug who was excited to jump over the waves or dive under them. Great was my joy when my parents bought an inflatable rubber boat and snorkeling equipment that we used every time we went to the beach.
Both my father and my mother liked to be active and to spend time outdoors. Every Sabbath afternoon they took my brother and me for a walk to enjoy the beautiful nature of the Tuscan hills in Italy. Then we ate some fresh cherries, figs, or grapes from our garden. It certainly was my parents who set a great example and had a big influence on establishing physical activity habits in my life.
Several studies show that sedentary behavior and physical activity levels of parents can strongly influence those of their children. However, there are several reasons why kids do not get enough physical exercise. In some cases, there are environmental barriers such as extreme weather conditions, limited access to parks or yards, and living in unsafe neighborhoods. Other reasons may be social factors like poor self-esteem, shyness, and a lack of confidence in one’s athletic abilities. Additional barriers to an active life style among kids include a lack of motivation, which can be caused by poor role-modeling, peer pressure, lack of options, or burnout. Last but not least, a lack of energy possibly due to poor sleep, poor nutrition, or a medical ailment can be a reason why kids are inactive. Here are some tips for parents and educators to encourage children to be more active.
- Be a role model
What’s your physical outlet? Do you run, play tennis, walk the dog, or work out at the gym? Being an active role model for your kids is one of the best things you can do to encourage them to be active. If you aren’t very active now, however, it’s never too late for you to get moving!
- Choose to walk or bike instead of drive
Whenever possible get kids moving instead of sitting in a car. If there is a safe route, have them walk or bike to school on a daily basis (if they’re too young to go on their own, walk or bike with them). This is a great habit to get into at an early age. Don’t forget to allow lots of time to get where you are going so you don’t have to rush.
- Build physical activity into your family’s daily routine
Ideally, every afternoon or evening, your family should get up and do some form of physical activity together. It could be taking a walk, playing catch, or riding bikes. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are moving together. If afternoon or evening activity doesn’t work with your lifestyle, see if you can find another time of day to be active together. Try starting with 15 to 30 minutes every day.
- Change the way children use screen time
Screen time is a significant barrier to being active, and can be addictive – but it doesn’t all have to be bad news. Setting screen time limits can help regulate children’s usage. You can also encourage children to use their screens, apps, and gadgets in a positive way, to help to get them moving. This can include the use of pedometers and/or activity trackers, which can help to monitor and encourage increased activity levels and track progress along the way.
- Praise but don’t push
Notice when your boys and girls are enjoying an activity and cheer them on. Always keep things positive from the sidelines so the kids understand that you value what they are doing but that you aren’t so invested in it that they feel pressure.
- Get help with yard and household chores
Encourage your children to participate in active outdoor chores such as raking leaves, pulling weeds, watering plants, sweeping the walk, and/or cleaning the garage. Make the chores even more enjoyable with background music, and be sure to join in to get them done as a family.
- Physical education
For healthy lifestyles, children need both free play and specific instruction on physical skills. An easy way for kids to meet this goal is by participating in physical education as part of the school day. In addition to supporting daily physical education in schools, many communities offer classes you can take advantage of, such as swimming or riding lessons. The best physical education is age appropriate and fun.
- Do not overdo it
When your children are ready to start, remember to tell them to listen to their bodies. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If they do, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. It is important not to overdo exercise. If your child’s weight drops below an average or if exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk with your child’s doctor.
- Provide a safe environment
Make sure your child’s clothing is comfortable and conformable to Christian principles – and that the equipment and site chosen for the sport or activity are safe.
- Remember the spiritual dimension
Exercise increases the oxygen levels of the cells of the body, including the brain, thereby enhancing the ability to think and reason. Remind your children that they will be in a better position to “hear” the Holy Spirit speak to them, and will be able to more clearly perceive His direction. Additionally, exercise requires discipline, a word related to “disciple.” Christ’s disciples are disciplined. “A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls” (Prov. 25:28 TLB).
“If physical exercise were combined
with mental exertion, the blood would
be quickened in its circulation, the
action of the heart would be more
perfect, impure matter would be
thrown off, and new life and vigor
would be experienced in every
part of the body”
Testimonies for the Church, vol 3, p. 490
by Manuela Di Franca
Master of Education in Teaching
German and English as a Foreign Language| Germany