Kids Fitness: Encouraging Exercise in Your Kids (cont.)

Instead, just getting kids moving is the key, experts say, with the American Heart Association recommending at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity daily.

But many kids just aren't getting that much. And most groups are unanimous on the prime culprit: sedentary entertainment, meaning the temptations of the TV, computer, and video games.

"Most physicians and experts recommend children get no more than two hours of television and computer time per day," says Rallie McAllister, MD, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim, and a family practitioner in Kingsport, Tenn.

So the first step toward fitter kids is to reduce your child's TV and computer time by setting reasonable limits, recommends McAllister. Help your child budget their TV time at the beginning of the week, selecting the programs they most want to see. Investing in a device that automatically turns off electronics after an allotted time is also a good idea. This way "the device is the bad guy and the parent is not," says McAllister.

B Is for Being There

Once the TV's siren song is silenced, it's time to get moving yourself. That's because children imitate what they see, and if you return laughing and full of neighborhood news after a bike ride, they're more likely to want to take part in the fun.

But if your child is hesitant, don't force the issue, recommends Michell Muldoon, president of, a web site promoting creative play for kids. Instead, she recommends focusing more fully on your own activity so that it has more appeal. More often than not a child "will become involved at their own pace and enter into the activity without feeling he or she has been forced into participation," Muldoon says.

C Is for Choices

Like adults, children have distinct personalities, and what one thrives on might bore another. "Some children are naturally social and energetic," says Muldoon. "Some are physical. Some are creative and some intellectual. What stimulates one child may have absolutely no appeal to another."

Choice is the key. For children that flourish with free-play activities, there's jump-rope, gardening, hop-scotch, hikes in the woods, or walks to school. Some families go in for kickball, tag, or hide-and-seek. Fall is a great time to build stick forts and gather autumn leaves for a collage, while winter brings with it the fashioning of snow families and other icy fun.

For kids who like more structure, there are dance classes, sports teams, and the YMCA/YWCA. Experts like Mark J. Occhipinti, PhD, president of American Fitness Professionals & Associates, recommend strength training as a great route to fitness. "Children should be strong," says Occhipinti, and strength training "develops strong bones, confidence, balance, and coordination."

Supervised strength training (everything from climbing to medicine balls to weights) helps kids develop into healthier, stronger adults, says Occhipinti. Just ask the photogenic governor of California; Arnold Schwarzenegger took up strength training when he was just 14 years old.

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