8 Simple Tips To Grow Active, Healthy Kids

Seven hours and 38 minutes. That’s how much time you may spend sleeping each night or working each day. It’s also how much time kids ages 8-18 spend on average each day consuming media, such as watching TV, playing video games, and using a computer, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study.

There is growing concern that this generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, fueled by the childhood obesity epidemic and other health conditions experienced by this generation of “indoor kids. Could this generation be destined to live many less hours, with many more of those precious hours spent staring at screens?

Hopefully this won’t be the case. First Lady Michelle Obama has initiated a campaign to fight childhood obesity and the National Wildlife Federation has asked the new Surgeon General to promote the health benefits of outdoor time for children.

Four kids on a playground

Swap screen time for green time!

Kids can’t stare at a screen and their hands aren’t available to text or play video games when they are building a snowman, splashing in a stream, scaling a rock wall, digging in a garden or climbing trees.

Here are eight simple tips to foster happy, healthy kids. 

1. Lead.  

By example. You are a role model for your kids. If they see you plop on the couch and watch TV, they will be inclined to recline as well. If they see you dig about in the garden or go hiking, they will be inclined to dig and hike as well.

2. Think.

Outside the box. Give a child an expensive gift and they promptly rip it open and…start playing with the gift paper and box. Skip expensive toys and break out glass jars to catch and release insects. Use gift boxes and shoe boxes to display and stow keepsake shells, rocks, dried leaves and other found treasures. It’s often said the best toys are 10% creation and 90% imagination.

3. Watch & Listen.

What do your children enjoy doing outside? What activities do they talk about doing? (Ask them.) Encourage those activities and build on them. If you’re stuck, here are some great ideas for outdoor activities that will get your kids off the couch, outside and moving.

4. Share.

What are your favorite childhood memories of outside play? Share them with your family and then go on a night hike, build a tree house, or run through the sprinklers to create new family memories.

5. Sculpt.

By providing your children with opportunities to move and create, you are sculpting their brains. Play fosters new neural connections and prunes existing ones. As kids sculpt snow and sand, they sculpt their futures.

6. Meet.

Safety is one of the major reasons parents are hesitant to let their children play outside. Organize a play-date that really is about play.

7. Create.

Opportunities. Don’t over-schedule your children or yourself. Leave open little windows of time – even if only for ten minutes – just to goof off and move around and explore outside. Any outdoor activity is much, much better than sitting inside staring at a screen.

8. Resolve.

Make a resolution to join the National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There Movement and take the pledge to get your kids outside.

Carol Torgan, Ph.D. is an award-winning health scientist, ehealth strategist, educator and consultant. She is passionate about improving health by encouraging everyone to go outside and experience their five senses in four dimensions. Her Web site, www.caroltorgan.com, addresses the interplay of science, technology, and movement and includes a list of 100+ top play resources.