Recently, Public Health England revealed their first ever child obesity map, which showed that nearly half of children are dangerously overweight in some parts of the UK. In fact, nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. Many of these children can expect to remain obese as adults, which could cut their overall life expectancy by up to 10 years. Clearly, getting children involved in physical activity at a young age has never been more important. And if you can get children active from a young age, studies show that you can embed good habits for life.
Justine Williams is the global business development manager for BORN TO MOVE™, the Les Mills programme made specially to inspire young people to fall in love with physical activity. She says that for fitness to be appealing to young people, the whole approach needs to be rethought. “It’s about finding ways to take the effort out of physical activity and make it fun.,” she says. Here, she shares her top five tips for getting kids to exercise…and love it!
When activity is fun, it doesn’t feel like exercise. This is especially important for young children between two and six. Justine says the key for getting children to move more is to make exercise an imaginative story, with movement cues woven throughout. For example, picking apples off a tree or crawling on the floor like an animal. As children get older, you can start incorporating elements of more traditional exercise like martial arts, plyometrics and yoga.
She also suggests incorporating popular trends into classes. “At one David Lloyd club, a BORN TO MOVE instructor noticed that many children were playing with fidget spinners,” she said. “Rather than ask them to put it away, she incorporated it into the class, seeing how many kids could keep the toy spinning while performing other movements. It worked perfectly!”
As a parent, it’s important to participate in activities with your children. One way is to get involved in a class together at your local
gym or leisure centre. If you can’t make it to a class, consider virtual class options, widely available online or via services like Les Mills On Demand. “You can just put on a class on your TV at home and do the class together,” says Justine.
You can also do an activity challenge together, such as a fun run or charity walk. Consider Parkrun, free weekly 5K runs that happen all over the country. You can check out their website to find one near you. Play catch in the park, ride bicycles together or try indoor rock climbing. “Doing things together can make a big difference.”
The reality is not every child will have a natural aptitude for sport. However, Justine stressed that the objective should be “physical literacy” not sporting ability.
“Physical activity should not be reliant on any skill level,” she says. “We just need to encourage kids to move. If they learn to express themselves on a physical platform, they will develop a lifelong love of movement.” She adds that many kids are leaving primary school unable to catch a ball. When thinking about getting kids involved in exercise, the focus should be on very basic movements like jumping, running and catching.
Physical activity doesn’t need to be rooted in gym-based exercise. Justine suggests finding unique ways to incorporate activity into your life. For example, why not park a little further away from the school and walk together with your child? She also says not to worry about rainy or windy days. “The weather is not an excuse. Get some weather-appropriate clothes and get outside.” If you must stay indoors, try making a circuit or a structure in the lounge with blankets and pillows from the sofa. “You only need a few minutes for activity to be valuable,” she says.
Kids love to be in charge. Put the power back in their hands. “In David Lloyd clubs, we encourage children to bring ideas for new games and activities to our classes,” she says. “They are then encouraged to teach the class their game, which drives greater engagement and interest.” She also says the classes incorporate practising routines or dances to perform in front of each other, turning exercise into a friendly competition. “When the activity is driven by the children, it makes a huge difference.”
With childhood obesity levels on the rise, increased physical activity is needed more than ever. The good news, says Justine, is that kids want to be active. “We need to listen to our kids and let them be free. Run outside, climb trees, play in fields. We’re creating a risk nation. The obesity crisis is real. We have to listen to our children and start breaking down the barriers.”