5 Ways to Increase Physical Activity for Children

According to the CDC, children from the ages of 6-17 should engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Decreasing time for physical activity, like recess, and an increase in technology have been linked to less physical activity in children. There are several health benefits to physical activity including decreased risk of obesity and growth of healthy bones and muscles. However, physical activity also promotes psychological well-being, reduces depression and anxiety, and could improve academic performance. It’s important to incorporate physical activity into your child’s routine and promote a healthy lifestyle. Some things to consider before adding physical activity to your family’s daily routine include selecting the type of physical activity, identify competing behaviors (work, travel, technology), and identify reinforcers for your children. The physical activity for your little ones should be fun, easy, and achievable. While going over your options consider resources available like parks, trails, classes that are offered, and tracks that are nearby. Here are 5 tips to help keep the little ones active:

  1. Set a specific time each day for physical activity -For younger children and children that benefit from visual prompts, a visual cue could be put in place. One example could be adding riding a bike into your child’s after school routine. Showing a picture of a bike to signal that it’s time for a bike ride helps build this activity into the daily routine. Once the physical activity has become part of the routine you can fade the visual prompt.
  2. Break up the physical activity into more achievable bouts – For your children it might be easier to engage in physical activity for 20 minutes 3 times a day versus 60 minutes all at once.
  3. Work towards a goal or use a token board – Set a goal and reinforcer that is motivating for your child and create a token board. Once your child engages in the desired physical activity, they earn a token (sticker, stamp). After your child earns 10 tokens (or whatever is agreed upon), they earn the set reinforcer they picked out in the beginning.
  4. Improve the skill – It’s said that a skill is more enjoyable when you’re good at what you’re doing. If your child struggles with riding a bike, don’t be afraid to get out there and help. Improving skills may also function as a reinforcer for your child. As they become better at bike riding, for example, they will be more likely to engage in bike riding and want to ride their bike.
  5. Use the “First/Then” approach – Find a reinforcer that is highly motivating for you child like playing on the iPad or playing at the playground. By using “First, play outside for 30 minutes. Then, get 30 minutes on the iPad” you can set clear expectations for your children. Then after time, you can increase the desired time of physical activity once it becomes more routine. Another way to incorporate the “first/then” is biking to the playground or walking to a friend’s house. First the physical activity must be completed, then there is reinforcement.

Including physical activity into your daily routine has several physical and mental health benefits. Use these tips to increase physical activity for your children and help the process.  From taking walks, yoga, riding bikes, to playing outside it’s important to keep your littles moving.