Fun in the sun: Helping children stay active over the summer
Monday, May 22, 2017
MANHATTAN — Summer can be a great time for kids to get active outdoors, so making exercise a priority and fun is important, according to a Kansas State University exercise behavioral scientist.
"There are so many fun activities kids can do to get exercise over the summer; it would be a shame for them to spend those months in front of the television," said Katie Heinrich, associate professor of exercise behavioral science and director of the kinesiology department's Functional Intensity Training Lab.
Heinrich said sedentary activity, or uninterrupted hours of sitting, is its own risk factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes, even among children. This risk can be heightened in the summer, especially for children from low-income schools. A study found that over summer break, children from low-income schools decreased their cardiovascular fitness and increased their body mass index.
"All children need to be active over the summer, but some groups of children are at even greater risk for not getting enough physical activity," Heinrich said. "It's up to parents to make sure physical activity is part of their children's routines."
Heinrich said children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, ideally with a mixture of cardiovascular, muscle-building and bone-strengthening activities. Moderate exercise raises heart and breathing rates slightly above resting rates, and vigorous exercise causes participants to need to stop to catch their breath.
Traditional summertime activities that have cardiovascular benefit include bicycling, swimming and playing tag. Heinrich said children can build muscle by climbing on playground equipment, and they can strengthen their bones by jumping rope.
Heinrich said the two main keys for making summer exercise sustainable all season long are to engage in it together and to make it desirable to the child.
"Instead of just telling your child to go outside, play with them and show them how to enjoy the activity," Heinrich said. "Kids want to do behaviors they see their parents model, so if the parent sits and watches TV, that's what the child will want to do."
Instead of turning on an exercise video or lifting weights, Heinrich advises enjoying the outdoors together and even implementing a bit of friendly competition.
"Remember that kids prefer games and fun activities over routine exercise," she said. "If you can get them moving because it's fun — not because they have to — that's the biggest win."