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This Is How You Turn Screen Time into Fitness Time

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With all of the tablets, phones, computers, televisions, and other mobile devices available these days, our kids spend a whole lot of their time looking at screens. Technology is used everywhere, from home to our Manteca-area schools to extracurricular activities. And busy and overwhelmed parents sometimes turn to technology to keep their children occupied. (Yes, I have been guilty of that with my own kids.) Teachers use it not only for educational purposes, but also during inclement weather when kids can't go outside for recess. Times when kids would otherwise be active, they are more sedentary, and childhood obesity and chronic illness are on the rise as a result.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, obesity affects about 12.7 million children between the ages of two and 19. The CDC says that children should be getting one full hour of physical activity each day. This sounds like a lot, but remember that physical activity takes place at school during recess and physical education. It can also happen as kids do chores and activities around the house or walk to and from the school bus stop.

A great way to turn screen time into fitness time is to combine the two, something that is sometimes known as exergaming. This is a good compromise in a world of technology. With the struggle to keep kids active in the way that we were used to growing up (in the good old-fashioned outdoors) in today's video game society, kids can still have their gaming time, but only by engaging with the screen in a more active way. Two systems that are popular for exergaming are the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. Both offer a variety of one player and multiplayer games that can eliminate boredom and help the player(s) work up a sweat. The games can also keep track of their progress each time they play.

Exergaming is generally shown to be more fun, more social, and allows more choice than traditional activities such as running or walking. In a study done by Brigham Young University and Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers stated that “although exergaming is most likely not the solution to the epidemic of reduced physical activity in children, it appears to be a potentially innovative strategy that can be used to reduce sedentary time, increase adherence to exercise programs, and promote enjoyment of physical activity.” Instead of video game competitions among friends, encourage your kids to have friendly competitions involving games that require physical activity.

If you are struggling to find enough time for quality family fun, why not use fitness and health as a way to motivate your entire family? The Nintendo Wii has multi-player games so that you can compete against family members in activities like frisbee golf, canoeing, table tennis, and running. Many active families enjoy running, and signing up to run a race together can promote family bonding and accountability. Using the exergaming systems in addition to getting outside to run together gives families a larger variety of activities and keeps motivation high when the weather is not conducive to outdoor exercise. According to runner and fitness advocate Gerald Kochan, playing active games with your children is one of the best ways to prepare them for running and other forms of outside exercise.

In addition to gaming systems, there are also kid-friendly health and fitness apps. National Football League Play 60 is an app from the American Heart Association that has children running and jumping in order to earn points toward team gear. Motion Maze requires kids to walk or run in place to navigate various puzzles. Iron Kids by the American Academy of Pediatrics teaches children how to maintain their bodies and prevent injuries through exercises that strengthen their core and help improve their posture. Super Stretch Yoga teaches basic yoga poses, which not only provide exercise, but can also have a calming effect. There are plenty of other apps available, both free and paid. Find one that works for you and your children and make it a habit. Keep a progress log to see how well you are doing and to help you aspire to higher goals.

Summer vacation is coming up soon, which means it’s a great time to start engaging your children in more health and fitness related activities. For some kids, going from the routined schedule of school to days full of summer freedom is difficult, but engaging in daily exercise can help them stay in a routine and develop good habits. Remember, you are a role model for your children, so help them to develop healthy habits and keep giving them positive feedback.


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