Exercise for Kids: How to Work It into Busy Schedules

Exercising is easy when you incorporate it into your child's daily activities. Here are some ideas that will keep them moving and having fun.

Exercise for kids is just as important as exercise for adults -- it gets the heart beating, keeps up stamina, works muscles and burns calories. But if your child doesn't play sports, exercise may not come naturally. With added screen time on computers and phones these days, plus the easy availability of sugary snacks, exercise for kids is more important than ever.

"When kids are consuming excess calories, increasing daily physical activity is essential in maintaining a healthy weight," says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a registered dietitian and the founder of City Kids Nutrition. "Screen time should be monitored to decrease sedentary behaviors as well as making time for moving around!"

Here are some ideas for exercise for kids that can work seamlessly into your everyday routines.

  • Yoga
    Duration: 15 minutes

    Yoga is a great form of meditation and exercise, and it trains the muscles as well as the mind. Kids will love beginner poses before working up to harder ones later on. Their natural flexibility allows for all sorts of takes on poses such as downward dog and rising sun. To work it into your daily routine, combine yoga into chores. Put one toy away, strike a yoga pose, put another toy away, do another pose and so on, suggests pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik. If you're a newbie yourself, watch an instructional video on YouTube or research classes in your neighborhood. Your local YMCA may hold classes -- including kids' classes -- during the month.
  • Zumba
    Duration: 15 minutes

    This heart-pumping exercise incorporates everything from salsa dancing to step aerobics. If your children love dancing and music, this is an exercise they will want to partake in. It's a great stress reliever as well after a long day at work or school. Crank up your kids's favorite tunes every afternoon and let them dance it out -- better yet, make a music mix of four or five songs and have them dance the whole way through. You can also find free videos online or purchase an instructional DVD.
  • Video Games That Require Movement
    Duration: 30 minutes

    Not all video games are created equal. Some are powered by movement, which means they require exercise and effort on the player's part. Instead of using a hand-held controller, the motion sensors monitor your kids' waving arms or kicking feet on the screen. They'll be off the couch and working up a sweat, but they'll only pay attention to the fun game they're playing. Try Wii Fit Games that require a balance board or any of the Wii Sports, such as boxing or baseball.
  • Post-Dinner Walk
    Duration: 30 to 60 minutes

    Dinner time is family time, so why not extend it into an after-dinner family walk? It's a great way to recap the day's events as well as get those wiggles out before bedtime. "After dinner every night, we go for a family walk to walk off the heavy meal. We go to the park for periods of time to get the kids good and exhausted before bedtime. It helps them settle so bedtime is easier," says Dr. Kulik. "Climbing, running and digging are great, fun activities that kids love. My kids love to bike and play catch with us. We all get exercise that way!"

So what's the best way to think about exercise for kids? "Make it fun! Model it. Kids love playing with their parents and thrive on positive reinforcement. If parents are enjoying an activity, kids will surely love it, too," says Dr. Kulik. "Go for a bike ride, a hike or for a run in the park. It is great for everyone in the family. Moving with your kids is really quality time spent with them as opposed to mindlessly staring at a screen together." Exercise is what you make of it, and if your children love what they are doing they will continue to move and stay healthy.

For more on kids' health, check out these 5 Health Benefits of Playing Outside.

Christina Montoya Fiedler is a Los Angeles-based parenting writer. Read more of her work on BabyCenter and Red Tricycle. Follow her Twitter.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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