Friends May Make the Difference in Keeping Children Active

Exercise with friends2

One in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese. According to the American Heart Association, this puts them at a higher risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and adolescents ages 6-17 receive 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Unfortunately nearly 80% of adolescents aren’t getting enough aerobic exercise to meet these guidelines. Helping kids meet these guidelines can help promote a healthy weight and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

According to a new study from Cincinnati Children’s, children being physically active with a friend may accomplish more than hearing encouragement or being active with a parent or family member. As a part of the study, 104 adolescents were selected to identify the benefits and barriers to being physical active. The researchers found that the most common-cited barriers were feeling self-conscious about themselves, lack of enjoyment, lack of energy, poor health and lack of self-discipline.

Having a friend involved was associated with significantly less perceived barriers to exercise and physical activities. Doing activities with families and encouragement from others did not have this same effect. This study shows us that we need to consider how to get children to be active with their friends on top of having family support.

When I first read this study, I was not surprised because children at this age are very social and being around their friends is very important to them. This is especially true for overweight or obese children who may be self-conscious or struggle with body image. Having support from their peers makes a huge difference, and we have noticed this to be true in our group exercise classes at Cincinnati Children’s as well. Children tend to be more active when they are exercising together and enjoying the social aspect of being in a group.

So knowing this information, how can parents help their kids to be active with their friends? And, of course, I don’t mean playing sedentary video games together. Although there are some decent indoor options for physical activity, studies show that kids are much more active when they are outside with friends versus playing indoors.

Here are some suggestions to get your children and their friends physically active together:

Take it Outside
This one seems obvious but we tend to move more when we have more space, so getting outside is key, especially on nice days. It could be as simple as taking a walk with a friend, walking the dog, going for a bike ride, or just going to the park. If you go to a park that has Frisbee golf, give it a try. Your kids and their friends might really enjoy it, and it’s inexpensive. Here are a couple of websites to find parks closest to you or to explore some new ones, especially now that spring weather is finally here! Great parks of Hamilton County and Cincinnati Parks.

Team up with Friends
Outdoor sports for kids can be very fun whether it is a pickup game of basketball, football, baseball or playing on an organized team of some kind. Try to find a local league or organize friends for regular pick-up games. Kids will be more motivated to exercise when they are with their peers or if they are part of a team. The more fun it is for them, the less it will feel like exercise!

Try A Kid’s Exercise Class
There are many exercise classes for kids throughout the community that are inexpensive and require no experience to participate. This is a great way to add some variety to your kids’ routines and they might feel more comfortable taking classes with children their own age. Plus, they’re just a lot of fun! Here’s a link to a listing of Fun2Bfit kids exercise classes offered at many different local YMCAs.

Try an Exercise Video with a friend
If you’re having trouble getting your kids outside or taking a group class, try a kid-friendly exercise video in the house. This, of course, will be more fun if a friend is doing it with your child. Here is a link to an exercise video we developed here at Cincinnati Children’s, which was made just for kids.

Incorporating these activities into your children’s daily routines will help them develop a healthy lifestyle that will hopefully stick with them for the rest of their lives. Mixing it up by offering as many different options as possible, as well as inviting friends over, will hopefully help your children avoid the boredom factor.

Christopher Kist, MS, HFS, CPT

About the Author: Christopher Kist, MS, HFS, CPT

Christopher Kist, MS, HFS, CPT has a master’s degree in Fitness and Wellness and is an ACSM certified Health and Fitness Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer. He is the exercise program supervisor for our HealthWorks! program, which is a medically-based pediatric weight management program for children and adolescents 5-18 years old.

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