Hurdles to Fitness for our Children

Is age a barrier to fitness? Most often when this question is asked it is in reference to aging adults. That being said, it is equally important to ask the same question in the context of adolescents and to ensure that early on our children begin developing the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. While age is not a barrier to fitness with children, there are three potential hurdles they may stumble upon as they grow into adulthood.

At a very young age, fitness is maintained through play. Think back to when you were young or to your kids when they were little. We had boundless amounts of energy, bouncing off the walls and running around chasing our friends or siblings. It was almost as though we were perpetual motion machines, who would only suddenly shut down when we absolutely required some sleep, which only served to refuel our engine. During this stage, play is an important part of our physical and mental development. Play allows children to become exposed to a variety of movements, to explore the world around them, to learn how to move through it and to test their abilities (and our patience!). With the expanded physical development children gain from play, they become increasingly prepared to move onto more complex and taxing activities as they grow and mature. But it is precisely at this period that children begin to go to school full time, which means most often sitting for a large portion of the day and this boundless energy begins to become diverted towards other critical developmental milestones.

During the early school aged years, children’s fitness is maintained through PE and after school sports.  At this point some kids run into their hurdle: Several kids don’t find a large PE class or after school sports to their liking. This is not surprising as kids’ abilities are developing at different rates and it is common for children to begin to compare themselves to others. This normal part of growing up can cause kids to give less effort in these activities, leading to a preference to be at home after school, spending their free time snacking or using their electronics.  If left unchecked, a kid’s fitness can begin to wane. Clearly, it is critical to encourage our children to participate and to help them to find the right programs that are both supportive and inclusive. This can be a difficult task as parents may have to try many activities until they find the right fit. It is also important that we make sure that we don’t push too hard and that we stay positive. As we all know, finding this right balance can be tough, but push too hard and the kids will outwardly reject our best intentions.

The second hurdle is just an exaggeration of the first. As kids enter Middle School and developing abilities become more disparate (albeit potentially temporarily), this urge to seek solitude or respite in the comfort of one’s own home becomes increasingly strong. This is exacerbated by the fact that sports begin to become more competitive and becomes much less “fun”. Again, while the prescription here can call for finding the right social groups or organizations to engage our kids and to keep them interested, it can also call for family walks, hikes or bike rides, all of which will fit the bill to help keep your child(ren) active. Again, it requires a concerted effort on the part of the parent to ensure that they recognize and fill any potential gaps. 

The third hurdle comes in high school as studies become more rigorous and significantly higher amounts of time and energy are put into schoolwork. Young adults may not feel as though they have the time to go to extracurricular activities and may find themselves increasingly stuck at a desk/computer in their home. Many kids need our help with time management in order to create opportunities for fitness (and active play!). By helping our children to make schedules and assisting in managing their time, ample opportunities arise for extracurricular activities. That being said, when time is really crunched, simple plans, such as incorporating body weight movement routines during study breaks, walks in the morning/evening or weekend activities or adventures (camping, hiking, going to the mall or site seeing) should be used to keep them moving.

Once these three potential hurdles have been overcome, children, now young adults, leave the nest and head off to university. It is up to them to take all the lessons we’ve taught them and to apply what they’ve learned to their own self-discipline and routine. If a strong foundation has been built for maintaining fitness, it will carry on into adulthood and eventually into the later years of life. 

If you  need help with ideas for keeping your children active and laying their foundation for fitness, please reach out to me at bt@innerfight.com.

By; Bonnie Tuttle, Kids and Teens Coach