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May 2017 Rochester >
Get the Kids Outdoors
Tips for Getting Kids Outdoors for Healthier Living
Back in the day, if your mother clicked off the TV and told you to “go outside,” you may recall exploring your yard, building a fort, or riding bikes with the neighborhood kids until dark. By sending you outside, your mother was helping you stay healthy and active. She also was teaching you how to be part of a team, make friends, work with the resources at hand and interact with and find your place in the world.
“For people of all ages, moderate activity is an important part of staying healthy. It helps us avoid weight gain and the risks that come with it, like joint problems, heart disease and Type II diabetes (which has increased dramatically in children and adolescents in recent years),” says Effat Jehan, M.D., family medicine physician with Lifetime Health Medical Group. “Children who develop active lifestyles are more likely to take those healthy habits into adulthood.”
With your children’s attention focused on electronic devices, you may find it difficult to motivate them to go outside for activity and socialization. As a doctor and mother of six children, Dr. Jehan has developed strategies to promote healthy habits in toddlers through teens. Here are some of her simple ideas to get them moving:
- Be a role model. Children learn from their parents, so if you go outside with them, they’re likely to do what you do. Bike, walk, hike, swim, play kickball, jump rope or go to a playground.
- Involve other families. Schedule group time at one family’s house or a park—and bring along skates, bikes or a soccer ball.
- Make time for play. Between school, work and extracurricular activities, sometimes getting outside is a matter of making time. Check the forecast and schedule some outdoor time for the kids to use their imaginations as well as their bodies. Sunny and breezy? Hand them kite-making materials, a bottle of bubble solution, or sidewalk chalk for drawing pictures or playing hopscotch.
- Include their electronic devices. While kids should spend most of their outside time unplugged, there are many age-appropriate apps that encourage outdoor activities such as exploring and logging findings or photos in an electronic journal, identifying birds (or constellations, for nighttime fun), or having scavenger hunts. For older kids, there’s geocaching, geographic exploration, and apps that track movement including running, walking, dancing and more.
“Make sure outdoor activity time stays fun and healthy by sticking to safety rules and wearing recommended safety equipment,” cautions Dr. Jehan. “For biking, this means wearing a properly fitted helmet, riding with traffic and the lights, and watching for cars pulling out of driveways.” She also advises kids bring water along to stay hydrated, and don’t forget sun block and bug spray.
Don’t be concerned if your child lies in the grass staring at the sky or swings in a hammock. If they watch birds long enough, they’ll learn something about birds. If they get bored, they’ll find something else to do on their own, which teaches self-reliance.
“If all else fails, my tried-and-true method for getting my children outside is simply to turn off our Wi-Fi,” Dr. Jehan adds. “When they appear from every corner of the house, I say, ‘Well, Wi-Fi’s out so let’s go outside!’ Works every time.”
Find what works for you and your family to be active—and healthy—together. And, have fun!