Exercise Tips for Overweight Kids

Perhaps your child hates sports or is more into video games than the kickball field.

Or maybe they feel too out of shape to keep up with other kids their age. Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to motivate a child to play sports when they are simply not interested.

You know whining doesn’t work. And you may worry that if you push too hard for a night out or sign up for the little league, you’ll deprive your child of exercise forever.

But you have more power than you think, says Blaise A. Nemeth, MD, assistant professor at the American Family Children’s Hospital at the University of Wisconsin.

“Parents can do a lot to inspire even the most sedentary kids to move more,” he says.

A few tricks can get kids moving more on a regular basis, even if they don’t sign up for a football team anytime soon.

1. Understand that exercise looks different for kids. For you, exercising can mean running on a treadmill for 30 minutes or burning a certain number of calories. But children are acting differently than adults, says Nemeth.

“Children train in short bursts and use their bodies in a wide variety of ways,” he says, so keep that in mind when you offer them activities. “Think of yourself as if you were a playmate, not a personal trainer.”

So instead of sending your child out for a run, offer to play a family game of tag in the backyard.

Bonus: “When you move with your children, there is a triple effect: your children move, you move, and this is a great way for all of you to interact with each other,” says Nemeth.

2. Tell about the benefits of exercise. You don’t need to convince your child to change their hobbies or interests. Just help them understand how moving their bodies will help them feel better in other areas of their lives.

For example, if you have a bookworm who prefers to be in a math league rather than a baseball diamond, talk to him about how exercise can pump his brain to increase concentration and focus.

3. Be secretive. There are many ways to get kids active, so they don’t realize they’re moving around more. Park your car further away from the entrance to the mall, so everyone has to travel more ground to get inside. Or, if your child loves animals, invite them to volunteer at a local shelter where they can walk their dogs.

“Instead of looking at it like you’re mean, think of yourself as the mastermind behind your child’s well-being,” says Kathleen Betin, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University at Buffalo.

4. Understand why your child does not like to play sports. It could be a simple reason like they don’t like being hot and sweaty. Or there may be other problems in the game. Are they being bullied on the tennis court, or are they having trouble breathing while running?

If you know what’s going on, it’s easier to find a solution to help them.

If you feel like you can’t get to the bottom of it, consider taking your child to a counselor who may be able to help you understand why your child doesn’t want to be active.

“You may not have the skill set to identify the root cause of your child’s avoidance of exercise, and that’s okay,” says Ben. “There are professionals who can help.”

5. Start small. Experts say kids should exercise for about an hour each day, but that doesn’t mean you should tell them, Betin says. “If 30 minutes of exercise seems too hard for kids, they won’t do it,” she says.

Instead, ask them to dedicate a small amount of time to exercise, even just 5 minutes.

“The goal is to get them to set a goal and stick to it,” says Ben. “When kids dedicate themselves to even a small amount of exercise, they are more likely to feel better, reflect, and say, ‘I did it. Over time, this will inspire them to do more and more.

6. Switch to family activities. Instead of a Friday night movie or an after-church brunch, head to the trampoline park or rock climbing wall or go camping with a picnic. Suggest some new movement ideas and see what your kids are most excited about.

“Like adults who avoid the workouts they hate and prioritize the exercises they enjoy, kids will want to keep doing what they really enjoy,” says Ben.

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