I have been fascinated over the past few years to see some of my youngest relatives operating a cell phone or playing computer games with a lot more expertise than most adults. Because childhood obesity is a prevalent problem in our society, I wish we could channel a child’s enthusiasm away from technology – even for a while – to focus on fitness and exercise. Children are impressionable and they can only be learning the addiction to these devices by observing and imitating their parents and others. So here’s an idea: If your children see that exercise and fitness are a priority in your life, they will imitate that just like they imitate your cell phone use.

What other things can we do to increase our children’s interest in exercise and fitness?

  1. Play along. Most gyms are not kid-friendly but fancy equipment is not necessary to encourage exercise. Participate in exercise with your children by taking a hike, going for walks, shooting hoops or going on bike rides.
  2. Provide the basics. Acquire equipment such as a basketball, soccer ball or football. Get some bicycles, skates, a trampoline, Frisbee, jump rope or hula hoop.
  3. Plan vacations that encourage fitness. Water parks, beach and hiking vacations are examples.
  4. Be spontaneous. Exercise does not always have to be planned. Try exercising in front of the television. Challenge them to an impromptu race. Take an extra lap around the mall when shopping with the kids.
  5. Participate in community activities. Encourage children to participate in local sporting events such as a half-mile or one-mile walk or run.
  6. Involve the family pet. Take your children with you when you walk the dog.
  7. Help them find their niche. Not all children are drawn to organized sports. I was never good at team sports like softball and basketball, but I found out I could run and loved it. Help your children explore all the possibilities.
  8. Make exercise the activity they choose. When exercise is fun there is no need to limit TV and computer games because children will choose activities that are fun.
  9. Don’t use the “guilt trip” method to encourage fitness. Instead, use positive reinforcement when a child exhibits the behavior we want to see. Michelle May, MD, an advisor to American Academy of Family Physicians’ Americans in Motion fitness initiative makes a great point: “When parents promote fitness as an important family value, preschoolers are more likely to remain active throughout childhood…”

You are the key. Make it happen. Help your children become part of the fitness generation and not just the technology generation.

Fitness Tip: Here is a fun way to get involved in fitness with your kids. Build a kite together and then go fly it.