Motivating an Overweight Child to Exercise

Motivating an Overweight Child to Exercise

Concerned about an overweight child? It's not too soon to promote exercise to improve your child's long-term health. The only question is, "How?"

By Jane Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth

Lack of exercise can be an especially tough problem for children who are overweight or obese. Many feel self-conscious about exercising. Low self-esteem and body image may inhibit them from being active, especially in front of their friends.

And don't forget that television, video games and computers can lull any child into sedentary habits. This can be especially damaging for overweight children, who may not have any physical activity built into their day.

What's more, kids who are bullied - as many overweight children are - experience a decline in their physical activity.

What a parent can do
In trying to get a child to exercise more, parents should keep a positive attitude, be patient and not force activities on him or her. Otherwise, you risk alienating a child. Instead, find ways to make exercise fun. In fact, some research shows that exercise may help to fight off feelings of depression and low self-worth in overweight kids.

Here are some ideas to get you started in motivating children to move more:

Encourage activities they enjoy. Pick something your child wants to be a part of, whether its dance, sports, martial arts or gymnastics. If organized activities make them too uncomfortable, pick something they can do with you, a sibling or trusted friend to start. They can always join a group-oriented activity once they get used to moving their bodies and feeling more comfortable.

Play the "challenge game." If you bet your daughter she can't run around the house twice, she'll be off like a shot. Dare your son to go up and down the slide 10 times, or make 10 consecutive shots into the foam basketball hoop. The trick is to let children have fun instead of making exercise a chore.

Chart their progress. Make a colorful chart to keep track of your child's physical activities (including time spent). You can choose to give stars or other non-food awards as they work toward a goal. Kids like to see things in concrete terms, and it creates a visual for their progress. Other family members can join in, too. Remember, though, it's not a competition.

Consider buying an active video game. According to research, overweight children who played sport games on the Wii expended five times the energy than when they played traditional video games. There are many popular dancing games as well that also burn a lot of calories.

Before your overweight child starts any new sport or strenuous exercise or activity, though, have him or her checked by his or pediatrician or family doctor.

A family affair
As a parent, it's up to you to be a role model for your kids. So try to get the whole family involved. Even if you have other children who do not have weight issues, keep in mind that exercise is important for everyone, overweight or not. Your whole family can benefit from adopting a more active lifestyle.

Here are some ideas on how to add more physical activity to your family's day:

  • Seek out toys and gifts that promote physical activity, such as kites, an indoor foam basketball hoop, badminton set, jump rope, plastic hoop or "kick" croquet game.
  • Assign chores that are physical in nature, such as yard work, washing the car or shoveling snow.
  • Encourage teens to look for active jobs (bicycle messenger, paper carrier, lawn service).
  • Plan active weekend family outings such as walks, hikes, rollerblading, ice skating, biking or flying a kite.
  • Walk or ride bikes for short distances instead of driving.
  • Walk the family dog together each afternoon or evening.
  • Use stairs instead of escalators or elevators.
  • Park your car at the end of the parking lot and walk to the entrance of the mall or grocery store.

Helping an overweight child build more exercise into his or her life can be a challenge. But study after study shows that becoming more active can help children get to and maintain a healthy weight and improve their health as they age.

Sources:

  • Storch EA, Milsom VA, DeBraganza N, Lewin AB, Geffken GR, Silverstein JH. Peer victimization, psychosocial adjustment, and physical activity in overweight and at-risk-for-overweight youth. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2007;32(1):80-89. Accessed: 04/05/2010
  • Petty KH, Davis CL, Tkacz J, Young-Hyman D, Waller JL. Exercise effects on depressive symptoms and self-worth in overweight children: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2009;34(9):929-939 Accessed: 04/05/2010
  • Graf DL, Pratt LV, Hester CN, Short KR. Playing active video games increases energy expenditure in children. Pediatrics. 2009;124:534-540. Accessed: 04/05/2010

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