Elyse Miller by Elyse Miller

Today is National Kids Fitness Day in the U.S., which is a great opportunity to focus on fun ways to get children more involved in regular physical activity. May also marks National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, with part of the focus being to encourage a healthy lifestyle for our kids. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children and adolescents ages six to 17 years perform 60+ minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Yet, research shows that only 24% of children are meeting this standard.

With the widespread use of electronics, households where all caretakers need to work, and the stressors of everyday life, it can be easy to let exercise fall by the wayside.

But movement can free us. It can relieve ailments, aches, stress, and illness. Exercise can improve confidence in kids and boost mental health.

Teaching a child to move regularly sets them up for a healthier life. Kids sit down an awful lot. They sit on their way to school, sit in class, sit and watch TV and sit to play video games. For some kids, the only upright movement they get each day is on their way to their next seat. 

There’s a strong connection between the mind and body. When we move our body, our mind can become more joyful and positive and, as a homeschooling mother of two young kids, I see this daily. When my kids seem anxious, stressed or frustrated, we MOVE! 

These short, active breaks often bring a clear shift in my children’s attitudes. Movement can increase the production of endorphins (“happy” neurotransmitters in your brain). These endorphins work to improve attitude, positive energy and focus. 

I'll be the first to admit that getting children to move willingly can, at times, be tricky. With 22 years of experience as an ACE Personal Trainer, and 10 years of "experience" as a mother, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to make movement fun for both kids and parents.

Children typically don’t want to be told what to do. After all, a bunch of rules aren’t very fun. This is why play-based exercise is always best. In our home, workouts with the kids are done through imagination, family bike rides, obstacle courses and friendly challenges. Every child is different, and each age will bring unique interests, but fun always wins (which is something more adults can incorporate into their exercise mindset as well). When exercise is enjoyable, it becomes something the kids get to do, not something they have to do. 

Here are four tips to get kids moving and enjoying it:

1. Make It Fun.

Exercise doesn’t need to be a list of movements, reps and sets. Instead, focus on fun activities, imagination and challenges.

2. Get Yourself Excited.

Kids will reflect your energy. Be excited and enthusiastic about the activity and they’ll do the same.

3. Let the Kids Take the Lead.

A list of rules will drain the fun. If the kids are moving, it’s a win. Let them have a say in the details.

4. Keep It Short.

Putting a time demand on exercise turns it into a task. Instead, invite the kids to join short movement breaks and games throughout the day. Let them ask for more. My kids almost always say “one more game, mama!” My kids love stuffed animals, obstacles courses and the outdoors, so our “exercise” almost always incorporates one or all of those things.

Here are some of our favorite “do anywhere” games. These mimic traditional exercise patterns, so the kids will learn basic exercises without even realizing they’re getting in quality movement: 

1. Rocket Blaster: Delegate a child as the “captain.” Everyone gets into a squat (or "launch position") and then holds it until the captain says, “blast off." Everyone then jumps as high as they can into “outer space.” Encourage everyone to try and get higher each time. Emphasize the importance of a powerful squat to boost your rocket. Change up the captain so everyone gets a turn.

2. Monster Jump: Set out an obstacle course using silly stuffed animals or monsters. Join the kids as you jump forward and backward over the stuffies. Make sure your feet don’t touch the creatures, or they’ll bite you! Emphasize body control and coordination.

3. Floor Is Lava: Grab a red shirt, towel or piece of paper. Pick someone to be the “lava regulator.” Everyone casually walks around until that red object hits the ground. Suddenly, THE FLOOR IS LAVA! Bring your knees high and move quick, getting your toes off the ground until it cools. Emphasize speed.

Check out my video on the ACE Instagram account for more fun games and activity ideas. Come up with your own family activities and tag me @fitelyse. I’d love to see them!