September 29, 2015

Recently published in the Dallas Morning News’ Special Needs Blog.

iStock_000020437902MediumIf summer is bursting with outdoor play, it could be said that the fall gets a little more sedentary as students settle into their school routines. But that doesn’t have to be the case, because as they spend more time indoors this season, it’s imperative to help kids exercise all year long!

Thankfully, the entire month of September is dedicated to just that — as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. And even though exercise should play a role in a child’s daily routines year-round, this month is an opportunity to remember that just because summer has ended, physical activity doesn’t have to.

Exercise can not only prevent obesity, but it has many other health benefits beyond what the eye can see — including bone and muscle development, an improved cardiovascular system, better breathing, and enhanced learning skills. Plus, staying active supports a child’s psychological well-being, reduces their risk of depression, and boosts their overall confidence.

Best of all, it’s not restricted to organized sports and it doesn’t require special gym memberships or equipment. Just 30 minutes of silly daily play can help kids stay healthy. You just have to create a fun environment that encourages them to move their bodies and the emotional support to keep at it.

For a fun way to release pent-up energy and reduce stress while clocking in exercise, participate in the fun with these suggestions:

  1. Simon Says: Put a new spin on “Simon Says” by encouraging your child to dictate exercise moves that the two of you can do together. Kids always love a chance to tell the grown-ups what to do.
  2. Dance Party: Create a “stage” from an open area in your living room and take turns dancing in it to the tunes of catchy music during your morning. routine. Put on just a few songs, and you’ve already clocked 15 minutes of exercise before the day has begun!
  3. Stop and Dance: Play a game of “stop and dance” by creating a secret word. When someone says the word, you both have to stop what you’re doing and dance in place for 60 seconds.
  4. Exercise Cards: Create a set of exercise cards with different words or pictures — such as “hop,” “dance,” or “wiggle.” Take turns rolling the dice as you each draw a card to see what activity you’ll do next for how many times.
  5. Obstacle Course: Build a living room obstacle course using household props such as pillows, blankets, sofas, and chairs. Challenge each other and pretend as though you’re competing in a game show.

Not only will these activities help children stay healthy, they’ll also make them smile and laugh as they find joy in simple play. To maintain the fun (and so that exercise doesn’t seem so daunting), consider breaking your sessions into manageable 15-minute play periods — once in the morning and once after school or before dinner. After all, a tuckered-out kiddo gets a better night’s sleep, too.