Researchers have found that children around the world are less fit than their parents were, and that their aerobic fitness has dropped by 5 percent since 1975. This isn’t really surprising, given that so many kids are enchanted by all the wonders of the digital age, and would rather stay glued to a shiny screen than climb a tree, swing from a rope or play cops and robbers until the sun goes down.
The World Health Organisation recommends that children and youths between the ages of 5 and 17 should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, and that most of that activity should be aerobic. But how are you going to help your kids achieve this goal?
The answer is to invent get-up-and-go family activities that are so much fun your little ones will not be able to resist joining in. This way, they’ll automatically pack in plenty of exercise without getting wise to your sneaky strategies!
Here are eight ideas that will get pulses racing:
1. Make your home exercise friendly. Provide your kids with the right tools! If you have a garden, hang a swing or a rope ladder from a tree, or invest in a sturdy jungle gym. Even a small yard can be rigged with facilities that encourage exercise: for example, you could put up a basketball hoop, or paint a hopscotch grid on the paving. When friends and family ask for birthday-present ideas for your kids, suggest sports equipment such as balls, bats, rackets and pool toys.
2. Plan activities for rainy days! When bad weather sets in, plan some thrill-a-minute games the family can play indoors. Here are some ideas:
- Create an obstacle course through the house. Make a list of how everyone should tackle the obstacles: for example, crawl under the table, walk backwards down the passage, do handstands against the wall, hop on one foot for a minute, and somersault along the beds. Then wait for peals of laughter as the kids enjoy watching the adults compete!
- Organise energetic balloon games. Balloons are great for indoor fun because they won’t knock anything off the shelves. Create ‘rackets’ using paper plates taped to wooden spoons, and invite the kids to play tennis using a balloon as a ball. To play balloon hockey, place a big cardboard box at each end of a room and use rackets, bats, pool noodles or brooms to swipe the balloons into the goals. Fill small water balloons with air, put them on the floor in a passage, and ask everyone to pop them by stamping hard – the person who pops the most is the winner! Or challenge everyone to keep a balloon in the air for a set amount of time – say 20 minutes – by batting it back and forth with their fists. If you let the balloon touch the floor, you’re out.
- Grab a few old cushions and organise a boisterous family pillow fight! Tip: if you’re using feather pillows, tie a knot in the open end of each slip cover just in case one of them bursts.
4. Plan weekend games days. Once or twice a month, set up an entertaining games afternoon for the family, and invite some of the kids’ friends to join the ‘tournament’. Offer small prizes, and don’t forget to take along a bag of oranges, NutriDay yoghurt tubs and bottles of water for the athletes! Great team games include:
- Wheelbarrow Races: divide the contestants into teams of two. One person lies face-down on the grass, and his teammate grabs him by the ankles, as if he is lifting the handles of a wheelbarrow. The person in front ‘runs’ on his hands towards the finish line as his partner pushes from behind.
- Tug-of-War: create two teams, then place a stick on the ground to indicate the centre of the field. Position the rope so it’s lying crossways over the stick, with an equal length on either side. Each team grabs an end of the rope and pulls, and the winning team is the one that tugs everyone in the opposing team over the midway mark.
- Egg-and-Spoon races: provide a raw egg and a spoon for each contestant. Place an egg on each spoon, and blow the start whistle! The winner is the person who gets to the finish line first without breaking the egg.
- Other team games everyone will enjoy include leapfrog, sack races and three-legged races.
6. Take the kids swimming. Children adore swimming, and it’s an excellent form of aerobic exercise, even if they’re not swimming lengths and are simply having the best time jumping in and out or frolicking in the water like little dolphins. Arrange regular trips to a big outdoor pool, and remember to take along balls and other water toys for extra fun. Show older kids how to play the classic pool game Marco Polo: the team member who is ‘It’ closes his eyes and shouts ‘Marco!’. The other kids all yell ‘Polo!’, and ‘It’ must try and locate them using the sound of their voices. Once ‘It’ has touched (or ‘tagged’) someone else, that person is out. Tip: all kids, including older children and adolescents, must be closely supervised by adults at all times while swimming.
7. Make after-meal walks a tradition. It’s tempting to collapse on the couch after a big weekend meal, but you’ll be doing everyone a big favour if you can convince them that a walk straight after eating is a family ritual from now on! Make your walks more interesting by setting challenges for the kids – for example, ask them to plan a route using a mapping App on your phone. Or turn the ramble into a high-speed obstacle course by inviting them to hop over cracks in the pavement, run circles round trees, walk backwards, do cartwheels, and so on.
8. Join a club! Community organisations such as Scouts and Girl Guides offer wonderful opportunities for youngsters to participate in thrilling outdoor activities in a safe, supervised environment – and learn valuable life skills at the same time. If you or your partner would like to get involved, you can become a volunteer!