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Promoting a Physically Fit Lifestyle for Your Child
By Rae Pica

If your child is to derive the benefits of physical fitness, then physical activity must be habitual and lifelong. Moving should be as routine as brushing teeth and bathing. But this is only likely to happen if:

1. Physical activity is a habit of yours - and of your family's.
2. It's associated with pleasure rather than pain!

A pleasant association is most likely to happen if you:
" Choose individual and family activities that fit easily into your lifestyle.
" Select activities that are within your physical capabilities and those of your family members.
" Pace activities with fun, rather than heart rates, in mind.
" Don't worry about scheduling; consistency is important, but it's okay to be flexible.
" Encourage one another, pointing out what's right about what you're seeing.
" Don't insist a child do something he's not comfortable with; you can always try again in several months.
" Expose your child to a wide variety of physical experiences. Just as you wouldn't feed your child only chicken and spinach, you shouldn't limit activity choices.
" Keep competition out of the equation. No good can come from comparing children.

It's important, too, to view fitness as an ongoing process rather than as a product. The latter gives the impression that there's an end point to be reached, which is a misconception and can create discouragement. It's also a great idea for your child to know that it's a process for you, too! If she believes you've achieved some ideal standards, she'll seek to reach perfection herself; and just the idea of perfection can prove to be overwhelming and not worth attempting. On the other hand, if she's aware of your shortcomings (and we all have them), she'll be motivated by your continuing commitment to improving.

Writes Curt Hinson, in Fitness for Children: "Your goal should be to teach children that their level is acceptable, wherever they are on the continuum, while at the same time encouraging them to move in a positive direction."

A Harvard study conducted in 2000 demonstrated that children regularly overestimate the amount of time they spend moving. When outlining their activities for the day before, the 45 participants (11 to 13 years old) reported an hour of vigorous exercise, like running. But they'd been wearing motion recorders on their hips that exposed the truth of the matter: They'd actually engaged in vigorous activity for two minutes. The remaining 10 hours of the day had been spent in sedentary activity, like playing videos, watching TV, and sleeping.

The goal is to make physical activity a customary part of your child's - and your - life. However you choose to encourage the physical activity habit, you can be assured that if it's introduced early in life, your child won't be among those who only think they get enough activity during the day.


Rae Pica is a children's movement specialist and author of Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Development through Age-Appropriate Activity (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Rae speaks to parent and education groups throughout North America. Visit her and read more articles at www.movingandlearning.com.

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