6 Tips for Couch-Potato Kids

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A new study says a lack of exercise is now the top children's health concern – more than smoking and drug abuse.

It’s official: Kids have become couch potatoes.

For the first time in the six-year history of the National Poll on Children’s Health, a lack of exercise is the No. 1 health concern that adults – parents and non-parents – have about kids in their community. It outranked smoking, drugs, and alcohol.

The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital released the latest results of this annual poll Monday…

  1. Not enough exercise (39 percent)
  2. Childhood obesity (38 percent)
  3. Smoking and tobacco use (34 percent)
  4. Drug abuse (33 percent)
  5. Bullying (29 percent)
  6. Stress (27 percent)
  7. Alcohol abuse (23 percent)
  8. Teen pregnancy (23 percent)
  9. Internet safety (22 percent)
  10. Child abuse and neglect (20 percent)

To make matters worse, couch-potato kids might take their bad habits with them into adulthood. “The Freshman 15” is an exaggeration, but the National Institutes of Health recently reported that most college freshmen pack on another 3.5 pounds their first year of college – in part due to a lack of exercise.

So here are our tips to help your kids or grandkids lead a healthier life, whether they’re toddlers or college students…

  • Practice what you preach. How can you expect junior to get off the couch if you don’t lead the way?
  • Make it a family affair. Get your exercise with the kids. Sticking to regular exercising is easier with an exercise partner.
  • Go wild. Walking, jogging, or biking around the block can get old, making exercise feel like a chore. To break up the monotony, use these free cool tools to find local parks, preserves, and nature trails to explore: the National Wildlife Federation’s Nature Find search, the U.S. Forest Service’s free Where To Go search, or nonprofit KaBOOM!’s Map of Play search or Playgrounds! app.
  • Be a good sport. If the kids aren’t into nature, help them find a sport. Contact your child’s school, your city hall, or your city or county parks and recreation department to find out about local leagues and sports camps. The nonprofit Shaping America’s Youth also has a searchable Program Registry of sports organizations in each state.
  • Limit screen time. This may seem obvious, but it’s also perhaps the one piece of advice most often given by experts. If the kids watch just three hours of TV a day, that’s 21 hours a week – equal to a part-time job! But it’s not just TV. Whether they sit in front of a TV screen, computer screen, or video game console, they’re still sitting.
  • Think outside the box. Physical activity isn’t limited to traditional exercising, nature exploring, and group sports: Search for local skating rinks or rock-climbing walls, for example. Video games like Dance Dance Revolution and some Wii Sports will also get your heart rate going.

What’s your favorite way to exercise with the kids? Share in a comment below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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