CINCINNATI -- Kids should be getting at least an hour of physical activity per day, experts agree. But studies show only about a quarter of the nation’s youth meet that recommendation.
Here in Greater Cincinnati, Old Man Winter makes it even more of a challenge to get kids up and moving. Harsh winter weather and fewer daylight hours mean far fewer outdoor activities for kids and, often, more time spent on the couch with their favorite video game or the latest smartphone app.
The lure of laziness is a struggle for many during the cold winter months, and children are no exception. But various agencies, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, warn that inactivity can wreak havoc on the health and well-being of adults and children alike.
Local certified personal trainer and health and fitness specialist Christopher Kist knows the effect a sedentary lifestyle can have on a child. He's the exercise program supervisor for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's HealthWorks! program, a medically-based, weight-management program designed specifically for overweight children.
“The recommendation for kids is an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, seven days a week,” explained Kist. “The majority of kids aren’t coming close to that, and in regions like ours, it dips down even further in the winter.”
That’s bad news for growing bodies -- especially for youth who are already overweight or obese, according to Kist.
“It increases their risk for things like high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes,” Kist said. “We even see some of our patients’ ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels increase in the winter months.”
The bottom line: Kids need to get some exercise each day no matter what Mother Nature throws our way.
“It’s been pretty dreary outside lately and it starts getting dark here around 5:30, which compounds the issue, but there are still fun ways to keep kids active this time of year,” Kist said. “Most are sitting throughout the day at school, so it’s important they get some physical activity once they get home.”
Kist shared some tips for local parents looking to keep their kids more active this winter and beyond.
Limit kids’ screen time
Today’s kids were born into a digital world, and many parents struggle with managing their media use -- especially during the winter months. Too much tech screen time can lead to less physical activity and other problems, including sleep disruptions, according to Kist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new recommendations for children’s media use in October. For preschoolers, the group now recommends no more than an hour per day. For school-aged children and adolescents, the recommendation is to "balance media use with other healthy behaviors."
The group suggests families institute “media-free” times and zones in their home and that they create a personalized family media use plan that fits their individual needs.
Kist also suggests encouraging kids to use some of that limited screen time to help stay in shape. Gaming systems, like Xbox and PlayStation, offer a variety of games centered on fitness. There are also countless exercise videos available online that are geared toward children, he said, and apps that track your fitness goals.
The best part? They’re all things kids can do inside, regardless of the season.
GoNoodle is a great resource for fun exercise videos, Kist said. They’re created specifically for kids, and both teachers and parents can access them across the world.
“They’re really fun for kids and it doesn’t require a lot of space,” he said. “The workouts are designed so kids can do all of the movement in a 3-foot circle, at home or in the classroom.”
Make exercise fun and mix it up
When it comes to physical activity options for kids, the possibilities are endless, according to Kist.
The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that children and adolescents do an hour or more of physical activity that includes aerobic activity (like running, dancing or biking); muscle-strengthening activity (like lifting weights, climbing activities or using playground equipment); and bone-strengthening activity (like running or jumping rope).
While much of this is easy to accomplish in the backyard or neighborhood playground during better weather, kids can still get it through indoor play, Kist said.
“They can do yoga, cardio, dance ... whatever they like,” Kist said. “The important thing is to keep it fun for them.”
Winter is also a great time to explore all that Greater Cincinnati has to offer, he said. There are a wide variety of destinations in the Tri-State that offer indoor fun, including skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor pools, indoor rock climbing and family gyms.
“There are places where kids can bounce and play,” Kist said. “And activities like laser tag can be great exercise as well.”
Cincinnati Children’s HealthWorks! program offers kids 1-hour fitness classes each week on both sides of the Ohio River at the YMCA. The program, Fun2BFit, is designed to meet the needs of overweight children and their families. Details and participating YMCA locations are available here.
Additionally, there’s no law against bundling up and heading outdoors. With proper outerwear (as long as temps aren’t too low), kids can still head to the park, take a jog or take the family dog for a long walk. It may feel cold at first, but once kids get moving and their heart rate goes up, they’ll warm up fast, Kist said.
Make fitness a family affair
Regular aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities are recommended for adults as well -- and, much like the majority of children in the U.S., they’re not doing nearly enough.
Physical activity has been shown to help prevent chronic diseases and improve health, but three out of 10 adults are inactive and fewer than one in four Americans currently meet the recommended levels of physical activity to improve health, according to information released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Kist said finding healthy physical activities your family can do together can help everyone stay on track. It’s also more fun and sets a good example for kids.
“It’s important that kids learn healthy habits early,” Kist said. “The idea is for them to keep those habits into adulthood and throughout their life.”