An active lifestyle can certainly help kids lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but those aren't the only reasons to make sure they are playing hard at least an hour a day, says Kim McNally, a lecturing fellow, health fitness specialist and wellness coach at Duke University.
Running, jumping, climbing, dancing and other activities are important for children's motor development. Research shows those kinds of activities could even help their mental health and cognitive and academic development.
"There's a lot of new and emerging research," McNally said.
McNally is leading a program this Saturday at Duke Medicine's Teer House, 4019 N. Roxboro Rd. in Durham, from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, called Active Kids: Getting a Daily Dose of Fun. The free program for kids and parents will offer tips, tools and toys to help kids and families include physical activity into their daily life.
For details about the program and to pre-register, which is required, click here.
McNally, a mom of two young children, said it's important for kids to have an hour of active play each day where they are breathing harder and moving at a walking pace or faster. Muscle strengthening activities, such as climbing on the monkey bars at the local playground, are important too, she said.
Parents don't have to do too much to keep young children - toddlers to young grade schoolers - active. Just giving them a few inexpensive toys and the space to play with them might be all you need to do, McNally said.
Some of her favorite toys include jump ropes, balls, hula hoops, bubbles and plastic cups.
For older kids and teens, it's important to get them outdoors - walking to school, if possible; participating in sports teams; and exploring their own backyards.
Video games, TV and other screen time, especially for older children who often have more freedom to choose how they spend their time, can be a hurdle to active play, McNally said. But they don't have to be if you find an activity that your kids really love.
"Kids will be more motivated if they are doing something that they enjoy," McNally said. "If a family and kids are motivated enough ... they can usually find a way."
McNally said parents should really take a look at what their child enjoys to find out how to keep him motivated and excited about being active.
If your daughter dances for 30 minutes in the kitchen when you turn on the radio, you don't necessarily have to sign her up for dance lessons. Just turn the radio on more often and dance, she said.
For more information about ways to help your kids stay active, McNally recommends these sites:
- Outdoor games at Family Fun: Playtime
- National Wildlife Federation
- Discover the Forest
Go Ask Mom also lists links to local parks and recreation departments, state parks and regularly reviews parks and playgrounds in the region.
Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom's sponsor, offers health information and tips every Tuesday.