Be Your Kids’ Personal Trainer

Scientists project that children of this techno age will be the first to live a shorter lifespan than the generation before them. Obesity, juvenile diabetes and even osteoporosis are all on the rise in children younger than age 14. While abundant food, junk food habits and excessive time glued to television and computer screens are to blame, it gives families hope to know that such diseases can be combated through simple, regular movement.

While every parent is concerned with the health of his or her child, many haven’t discovered that correcting behaviors of little, and not so little, ones is highly doable. Parents typically come to my clinic eager to hire me to get their children out of the danger zone for diseases. To them, I answer, “Hire yourself!”

Parents make wonderful natural coaches, because your children have been modeling themselves after you their entire lives. To succeed, we can start by looking at what the science says.

It turns out that bouts of exercise do not need to be continuous to be beneficial. Want to get 30 minutes of movement a day? Try encouraging the whole family to get moving for just five minutes at a time, but as vigorously as possible. Make a game out of setting a timer, or picking a favorite song, following a rule that no one stops moving until time is up.

Most children stop practicing movement when it is associated with low performance or negative feedback. You may have a star athlete in your family, as well as a non-athletic child, who feels best when twirling. So, create an environment that encourages children to do what feels good to them. Movement is movement. The phenomenon of hyper-organized exercise is specific to the American culture; but all over the world, spontaneous dancing, wiggling or jumping is the norm. And other populations generally weigh less than we do.

While most humans have an innate love of movement, many children shy away from sports. To get these kids moving, remember that ‘play’ is what we called movement before we redefined it as exercise. Incorporate natural movement into fun family rituals. The following can serve as idea-starters:

Balance Games

Balance is one of those skills that tends to decrease with age, simply because we stop practicing it. Wearing shoes is another habit that decreases the ability of the foot to balance. So, make home a shoe-free zone inside, and challenge the entire family to join in simple balance games. Examples include doing assisted headstands, standing on one foot with eyes closed, and walking with a book on your head.

Jump Rope Challenge

Did you know that children who jump 200 times a day can increase their bone density in less than eight weeks? Try leading your kids through different jumping challenges, such as hopping on one foot or creating jumping dance routines.

Family Olympics

Have each family member pick out an event of his or her choice. Hula-hooping, balancing on one foot, bike riding and hopscotch are standard favorites. Other games make the most of the area where you live. Use a local lake or pool for swimming competitions, or take advantage of the local park, which often has an exercise circuit that affords spontaneous competitions.

Minimize Screen Time

Computers, television, video games, and texting devices are amazing feats of technology that, collectively, have the potential to rob us of wellness by taking us off of our feet. First, have your family sit down and add up all the hours they spend sitting in front of a screen. Once you have a total for each person, you can change habits in two ways: by progressively decreasing total screen time by 10 percent each month, and by standing during screen time. Create a standing workstation for the family computer and break for two-minute exercise bouts during television commercials.

It is vital that parents lead by example in every area of life. Even if you regularly exercise at a gym or health club, your children may not see you exercise. Chances are, if you get up, turn off the television and embark upon a quick walk around the block, your kids will enjoy both the movement and the time spent together.

Biomechanist Katy Santiago has a masters of science, is an expert in physics of the human body, and director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, CA. The institute’s corrective exercise programs are available on DVD at

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