Family Fitness: Get the Kids Involved

There’s something quite magical about the summertime.

As a kid, in addition to the obvious- no school- it means long hours of sunshine to play outside all day long, swim team at the lake, or tennis or whatever the sport(s) may be and simply running, hopping, leaping, skipping, jumping and riding bikes.

In a word: moving.

A lot.

At least it used to mean as much.

Sadly, though, this is not the case, and it’s not a direct correlation to the economic level of a family and the assumption, for example, that children from families with means to access tennis club or golf lessons are active and those from families without are not.

It turns out that regardless of family income, children on summer break consume more sugar, watch more television, and eat fewer vegetables than the rest of the year, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health[1].

In the summer, youth watched an average 20 minutes more television a day and consumed an average three ounces more sugar-sweetened beverages during summer break than during the school year. Overall, exercise was basically unchanged: students were physically active five minutes more on average than they were in school.

High school students, however, exercised significantly more during the summer than during the school year, but still did not meet standard government recommendations.

Most American children are already spending about 3 hours a day watching TV but their collective screen time (a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games) can total 5 to 7 hours a day![2]  

Up that to almost 7 ½ hours per day in the summer and you’ll get a clear picture of what we’re looking at.

In terms of the statistic for teens being more active via exercise compared to during the school year but still not meeting minimum guidelines, the image is bleak here, too.

The Physical Activity Guidelines[3] provide science-based information and guidance on the amount and types of physical activity Americans 6 years and older need for health benefits.

There are three guidelines:

Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.

  1. Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
  2. Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
  3. Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.

Let’s tally this up.

American children are spending over seven times more time per day on their smart phones, tablets, laptops and watching TV, being completely sedentary and moving for less than an hour…even on summer break!

And as much as we talk and write and hear about the appalling state of many a school lunch may be, kids aren’t eating any better during the summer.

In fact, it’s worse.

Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study[4] showing that schools may be taking too much of the blame for the childhood obesity epidemic.

Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

What is wrong with this picture?

Whether we chalk it up to thinking the kids won’t like healthy foods or they’re not interested in playing sports or they’ll have a fit if their screen time is reduced, the bottom line is good, healthy habits including eating well and moving have got to come straight from the single most important role model(s) in a kids’ world- the parents.

Granted, it’s easier said than done and many a parents’ time is already spread thin juggling work, childcare and finances, not to mention their own health that it can easily seem that there’s not a spare second in the day to add in calculating a new fitness and eating regime for the family.

But consider the pros versus the cons.

Wouldn’t it behoove the entire family to get on board with a healthier lifestyle for the long run?

Studies suggest that shared family mealtimes offer nutritional benefits to family members[5].

And if mom and dad are moving, the kids will naturally move, too, no questions asked; it’s just ‘what they do’.

Let’s Move[6] shares some easy tips on their site to get everyone moving including:

Set Goals

Set effective goals that are specific, achievable and forgiving. Rather than saying you will exercise more, set a goal like walking for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.

Schedule Your Activity

The best way to begin increasing your family’s physical activity is to schedule time for it. Start by identifying at least three 30-minute time slots this week for activities like taking a walk, playing sports or doing active chores.

Be Flexible

If a conflict comes up during physical activity time, reschedule instead of canceling. Find a new time for the activity to replace what you missed.

Share it

To keep the momentum going, share your new ideas, activities and tools with friends, neighbors and relatives. Invite them to join in and get moving too!

Ideas to Get Started

  • Play tag, swim, toss a ball, jump rope, hula-hoop, dance to music or even play a dancing video game. It doesn’t have to be sports—just get your family moving!
  • Walk the dog, go for a jog, go on a bike ride, take the stairs or head to the park and let kids run around for a while.

When you stop to consider all the pros of eating well and effectively playing together as a family, there are simply no cons that can even hold a candle to all you and your spouse and kids stand to gain.

Now, get moving!





[1] “Obesity-related Behaviors Increase When School’s out.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2015

[2] “Screen Time and Children: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 201

[3] “Active Children and Adolescents.” 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 3. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

[4] Parker-pope, Tara. “School Is Out, and Nutrition Takes a Hike.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 June 2008. Web

[5] Hammons, Amber J., and Barbara H. Fiese. “Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?” Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatric

[6] “Let’s Move.” Make Physical Activity a Part of Your Family’s Routine. Let’sMove.Gov