I have an elementary age son who’s obese. He doesn’t enjoy being active. Instead of going outside for recess, the rebbe tells me that he stays indoors, regardless of the weather. I’m concerned of not only his health but his self-esteem. I don’t want him to be teased or made fun of because of his weight. Any advice is appreciated!
E. B., Forest Hills
Dear E. B.:
I can definitely identify with your son. One of the biggest driving forces in pushing me towards fitness was being teased as a “chubby teenager.” It was not fun at all. When your son reaches his teenage years, and he begins to mature, most likely he will want to change on his own for the very reasons you mentioned.
Before that time, we should try to encourage him to become more active by any means possible, and finding something that he enjoys in this “physical movement realm.” It can be a very positive force, if there is an area he enjoys and is good at, to want to do more.
When you’re a kid, it’s usually not about what’s “good for you” or what fulfills the recommendations of clinical researchers; it’s about what’s fun and cool to do.
Global health recommendations suggest that kids accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Unfortunately, the majority of kids in the US are not meeting these recommendations. How can we change these stats, and how can we make something that is necessary more fun and appealing to our kids?
Typically, fitness pros encourage adults to participate in steady-state exercise such as running, biking, swimming, or walking to get their daily exercise. Studies have shown this to be an effective method for adults to improve aerobic fitness. However, the same style of exercise is not equally effective or enticing for kids and adolescents. Steady-state exercise requires fewer motor skills and less mental involvement and quickly gets boring for kids.
Yes, 60 minutes of aerobic exercise for kids is important for their health, but it’s equally important to incorporate some instruction, skill, and mental involvement in those 60 minutes a day. We also need to include the necessary skills needed for physical development, such as balance, coordination, and general fitness. That’s why fitness programs designed to get kids active require more constructive planning than those created for the average adult.
Here are some ideas for designing an hour of exercise for kids that incorporates a variety of elements that you can try at home, in a park, or wherever it is convenient. (By the way, we will be starting an expanded Fitness Fun Athletics program shortly, geared precisely for kids to solve this problem, staffed with expert trainers who specialize in teaching kids. I know that it’s a shameless plug, but I couldn’t pass up ;)
- Include short, quick bursts of high-energy exercises with short, brief rest periods.
- Alternate between higher-effort and lower-effort segments so that kids can complete an entire fitness session without feeling too exhausted.
- Include a variety of movements like skipping, jumping, hopping, kicking, and throwing to give children a well-rounded program.
- Use fun equipment such as ladders, ropes, cones, and playground balls to retain their interest and enhance the fun.
Two of the best games/drills for incorporating aerobic fitness training that is fun, dynamic, and beneficial are obstacle courses and relay races for kids. You can add fun equipment, incorporate a variety of exercises, use quick bursts of time, or even assign partners. Check out the following obstacle course and relay race, and try them with your kids on your next workout. For the sake of ease and simplicity, minimal equipment is needed for these games.
Cone Sprint Obstacle Course
- Set up four cones in a line, each about 10 to 20 yards apart.
- Have all the kids start at “cone 1” together.
- When you blow the whistle, call out a random number between “1” and “4.”
- Each kids runs to the number cone that was called and performs the exercise or drill at the cone.
- When you blow the whistle for the second time, each kid runs back to “cone 1” and runs in place.
- When everyone is back and ready, blow the whistle again and call out a different number.
- Try to mix up the numbers called, such as a sequence of Cone 2, Cone 4, Cone 2, Cone 3, Cone 4.
- Pick a fun exercise or drill to perform at each cone.
Cone 1: Jumping Jacks
Cone 2: Foot Fires
Cone 3: Mountain Climbers
Cone 4: Single-Leg Balance Hops
- After you call out at least four to eight cones, have the kids take a rest by playing a circle game like telephone, where they can continue to be engaged and have fun, but without the bursts of energy.
- Repeat another Cone Sprint Obstacle by assigning these exercises to different cones (cone 1 switches to Burpees, cone 3 switches to Push-Ups, etc.)
15-Yard Jumping Jack Relay Race
Set up two cones, 15 yards apart
Depending on the number of players in each line, pick a modality of running, skipping, or hopping for each player.
Each player performs a different modality to reach “cone 2.”
Each player performs 15 jumping jacks at “cone 2” and then heads back to “cone 1” to perform the same modality as they did to get there.
- Try to assign a different modality for each player in line.
Player 1: Forward run (15 jacks), forward run back
Player 2: Backwards run (15 jacks), backwards run back
Player 3: Side shuffle (15 jacks), side shuffle back
Player 4: Skip (15 jacks), skip back
- After the relay is over, allow the kids to change positions so that each kid is able to try each player position