We all know the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle and the associated diseases. There is also an increase in awareness about obesity and the effect it can have on health. In a move that created headlines back in June, the American Medical Association officially recognised obesity as a disease. The good news is that many of us are now realising this and changing our daily routines to incorporate dedicated time for some form of physical exercise or fitness activity.
But, to take a step back, when did being unfit become a part of our life? As children, we all remember being physically active and playing games with our friends and having a good time out in the field. Perhaps, at some point, as our careers took up most of our time, energy and focus, we sacrificed this vital function-of being physically active-as we began to work hard to fulfill our dreams. However, that sacrifice has a cost in the form of deterioration of health and the sooner we realise this, the better it is for our wellbeing.
This is the reason we need to instill the value of physical exercise and fitness in our children as early as possible. Obesity in kids is becoming scarily common. The technology we so lovingly lavish on our kids, in the form of PSPs and iPads, also lands up making them physically inactive. And to make things worse, kids love fast food. Pushing a healthy diet on children is even tougher than pushing it on grown-ups. Excessive time on gadgets, too much junk food and too little exercise, all provide a dangerous environment for our children's fitness.
New research shows that children who are physically fit absorb and retain information more effectively than children who are out of shape. If these studies are true on a larger scale, it can have huge implications on how children learn and remember the things they are taught in school. After all, as parents, we would love our children to be well-rounded-not in shape, but in their abilities in the classroom as well as on the playground. It is no longer a question of prioritising books over games, but a question of allocating enough time to do justice to both.
The best way to instill daily physical activity is to start early. Playschools incorporate fun activities in their daily schedule so that should be good for children right from the time they are toddlers. This continues into primary education as well but with the focus shifting to books, the amount of physical activity tends to come down. This gap is easily bridged by activity classes outside school that specialise in sports. In fact, in metros like Mumbai there are retail chains of gyms for children. There are skating, judo and karate classes, as well as cricket, football, badminton, throwball, basketball, tennis and all kinds of sports coaching available. Choose one that your kid enjoys and sign him/her up for it.
Get your hands dirty
Remember that classes can only do so much. Also remember that kids learn from parents. So get down and play with your children. This is not a message meant only for mothers. Fathers need to realise this as well. There is nothing like physical exercise as a bond between a parent and a child. Running, cycling, swimming, football, cricket-the list can go on and on. It's easy to relax on weekends, given that all of us lead very busy lives.
From personal experience I can say that I have lagged behind on taking my son out for even a simple activity like walking in a park. And I've envied this father-and-son pair that I see working out regularly at the gym. Yes, it's a challenge but not an insurmountable one.
We all do this during the vacations-there's the standard photo of a family playing badminton or cricket or whatever sport while vacationing. Make this a weekly activity. Families that play together, stick together. It's great together time and bonding time for parents and children and this should be done as a rule, not an exception. And at the risk of repeating myself, kids learn from parents. If all that you, as a parent, do at home is watch television, chat on WhatsApp and stick to your computer or iPad or whatever gadget of mass distraction you choose, that's what your kid will learn as well.
That's not to say that you must keep playing games all the time. Have a judicious balance of time between physical activity and TV/computer/gadget time. And remember, sending your child to the neighborhood playground with your domestic help might be convenient, but might not serve the purpose over the longer term.
Daily chores as fun
You can also throw in physical activity in your daily chores. From washing vessels and washing clothes to cleaning the house, watering the plants, washing your car and washing your cycle, there is a lot you can do within your own home that can be a fun physical activity for your child. Play his favorite music, get dirty, have fun on the floor. There is a lot your child can learn from the merits of physical labour.
Throw in some learning for your child by explaining how household devices work. For example, when you're washing your car, you can explain how the engine works. There are a lot of options here that can make mundane, everyday activities a lot of fun.
Each family is different and all of us have our own constraints and busy schedules to deal with. It's easy to write about fun, physical activities for children but difficult to turn them into habits. I get that. But it's on us, as parents, to instill these values in children as early as possible. To realise the value of physical fitness late in life comes only after we've had our share of diseases. And that's not something we want for our kids, do we?