Ready, set, go: Ways to set your child up for an active lifestyle

Parents have a critical role to play in encouraging healthy habits for kids that will last a lifetime, writes Kim Bate. She gives her tips for parents on supporting an active lifestyle.

Whilst kids are naturally active and love to move around, as they get older it can be a challenge for them to get enough daily activity. This can be due to increasing demands at school, they’re busy with other extracurricular activities, there might be a lack of active role models in their life, they feel they can’t compete with other kids, or simply, they might not enjoy it all that much.

However, creating positive habits around physical activity while kids are young sets them up for good health and wellbeing both now and in the future, therefore it’s critical that physical activity is made a priority for young people.

The important role for parents

As a Physical Education teacher, the most frustrating question I get asked is ‘don’t you just play games all day?’ In reality, if you were to ask any Physical Education teacher about their values and role in education, you will likely get a passionate response about the importance and merits of young people being physically active. That’s because physical education is about so much more than playing games, it’s about equipping students with physical literacy – a deep understanding of the physical, social, cognitive and psychological benefits of living an active lifestyle, and the desire to lead this type of life.

The benefits of physical activity are well understood – it improves overall health and fitness, helps people to maintain a healthy weight, improves quality of sleep, builds physical strength and aids the development of motor skills – which is particularly important for young people.

A healthy lifestyle supports a number of mental benefits too including relief from stress and anxiety, improved body image and confidence, and improved concentration and focus in other areas. And being an active participant – whether that be at school, or as part of an extra-curricular sport or program – provides opportunities for kids to learn teamwork, make new friends and practice important leadership skills.

School programs play an important role in influencing participation and development in physical activity. They provide regular, scheduled opportunities for this, as well as providing a platform for PE teachers to instil the true value of physical activity and how this and overall wellbeing are intrinsically linked.

With that in mind, students aren’t at school for 52 weeks of the year, and will eventually graduate and enter the adult world where these structures and opportunities will be less readily available to them. So, whilst our role as PE teachers is to empower students with the knowledge and confidence to make positive decisions about their health, this ultimately must be supported at home too. In fact, The World Health Organisation highlights the importance of integrating physical activity into settings where people live, work and play.

As a parent, here’s how you can support an active lifestyle at home:

Be a positive role model

Model healthy choices in your own daily activities so your kids learn how to do the same. Beyond this, talk to your child about the reasons behind your healthy choices – why you exercise, or choose a healthy snack over junk food. Creating a positive experience through being an active role model encourages them to enjoy physical activity and increases the chance of them staying active year-round.

Make it a family event

Plan active events for the whole family, such as a walking tour of your city, a trip to the beach, or even a kick at the oval after school. By increasing the entire family’s activity levels, everyone benefits. Plus, it’s much more enjoyable to exercise with others.

Focus on food

Exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation and fuel for a healthy, active life. More than that, studies have shown that the food you give your children now will directly shape their food preferences later on in life. A rule of thumb: eat the rainbow! Colourful fruits and vegetables will give your kids all the nutrients, vitamins and energy they need to be active and healthy. More than that, stock the house with healthy convenient snacks so it’s easy for children to reach for them.

Choose an activity that they enjoy

Extra-curricular sports and activities are a great way for kids to keep physically active, whilst expanding their social horizons too. There will be a number of football, netball, basketball, soccer, tennis and dancing clubs just a stone’s throw away from you, or you could try other activities like bike riding, swimming or running. Just make sure it’s something your child is going to enjoy, and not feel like it’s a chore.

Set boundaries around screen time

In this day and age, screen time is higher than ever so it’s important to encourage your kids to swap 30 minutes of screen time for 30 minutes outside kicking a ball, or simply going for a stroll.

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About the author

Kim Bate is  Head of Health and Physical Education at Strathcona Girls Grammar School.

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