The younger a child is when you introduce them to exercise, the better, according to fitness phenomenon Joe Wicks.
‘I recently went on a tour of UK schools to encourage pupils to get moving more, and I saw again and again why exercise for kids is such a powerful thing,’ says The Body Coach.
‘Children who do regular daily exercise have been shown to have a better attention span, are more focused on learning and are often a lot happier. There are so many easy ways you can help your kids to become more active – without you having to be a pro with a kettlebell!’ The ideas outlined here make it simple to get going today – so get those trainers at the ready…
Be a role model
Children learn from what they see, so if you don’t do any exercise, it won’t be on their radar. Set a good example by getting motivated yourself, then make it a fun thing that you can do together. ‘You need to stop thinking that exercise is a scary activity that only happens in a gym,’ says Joe.
‘There is now so much information online, you could look for a simple workout or yoga stretches on YouTube that you and the kids can do together in your lounge. Or it could be as simple as putting on your favourite pop song and dancing in the kitchen. We need to move as much as possible around our kids, so they think it's a normal, fun thing to do.
Joe shows schoolkids just how fun exercise can be...
Make fitness part of something you (and they) love
Tapping into things your kids enjoy is a great way to encourage them to get moving. If they love music, dance with them. If they’re football mad, join them for a kickabout. But it’s just as important to tap into what you love, too. ‘Cycling is my thing,’ says Joe.
‘So I’ve got my daughter, Indie, a little bike seat so I can take her out with me on my bike, even though she’s only a year old. If she’s part of something I love, she’ll know that it’s an activity we can do together – and hopefully she’ll want to go cycling with me when she’s older.’
Play fun games
A game like Simon Says, where kids follow fun instructions to do certain movements, can be a great way to get children to do a quick HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout without them even knowing. ‘When I visited the schools, I did something similar and the kids didn’t realise they were doing exercise,’ says Joe.
‘They just thought they were playing a great game that happened to involve star jumps and running on the spot. I had children from three to 16 doing the same workout, so it’s good for all ages. Keep the instructions simple and fun and everyone is going to come away feeling good.’
Choose your words
Movement and exercise for kids should be about how it makes them feel rather than how it makes them look. ‘I don’t talk about body image or body weight with kids,’ explains Joe.
‘Instead, I focus on trying to get them to make the connection between exercise and having more energy, plus how it can help lift their mood. When you talk to kids about exercise, don’t mention burning calories or weight loss. Instead, explain that if they do it, they’ll feel so much better afterwards. Use positive phrases such as, “This will help you to have a great day and make you feel happier”.’
It’s usually easier to get outside in the summer months than it is in the winter, so make the most of it when you can. ‘Exercising indoors is fine, and you’ll still release endorphins [those feel-good brain chemicals], but getting outside and surrounding yourself with nature can elevate those feelings even more,’ explains Joe.
‘We can sometimes be so removed from nature that we forget how good it makes us feel. When you go outdoors, you’re exposing your senses to the elements, which takes exercise to another level, so kick a ball about in the garden or play a game of tag in the park.’
A good diet goes hand in hand with exercise, so don’t forget to encourage kids to refuel in the right way. ‘The food we put into our bodies can affect our mood,’ explains Joe.
‘Eating healthily can give us a much more positive outlook and mindset for the whole day, and it also works in tandem with exercise – which is important for kids to learn. Giving a child a piece of fruit after exercise is a great way to get them to refuel, but remember that the odd treat isn’t a bad thing after a really active day. It’s all about balance, after all.’
Tune in to Joe’s YouTube channel, The Body Coach TV, for short workouts that parents and kids can do at home.