Ways to Help Your Child Be More Active 

Let’s face it, it can be difficult to fit the recommended 60 mins of physical activity into our kids’ day - especially if they’re not the sporty type. Yet it’s so worth prioritising. The benefits of increasing their physical activity levels are huge not only physically, but mentally too.

So how can we help our kids, and in particular our teens, to get more active? As an ambassador of the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge, Irish Olympian Thomas Barr has witnessed first-hand the positive impact that the simple 6-week exercise program has had on students. Below, he shares his tips for encouraging your child to be more physically active.

What’s Causing Our Children and Teens to Be Less Active?

Boy watching a show on his tablet

Our children’s lifestyles are more sedentary than ever before. “I think the prime reason that children are becoming less active,” Thomas notes, “is that it’s easier to be lazy and be entertained without moving from the couch. Without social media or TV, sitting in one spot for hours would be considered a form of torture, and you'd be more inclined to get up and do something. Now hours can pass by without them even realising.”

Thomas recommends limiting screen time to encourage children to get up and moving. “After that, the activity becomes almost addictive as your body releases all those endorphins and leaves you feeling good and having fun – something that children will want to feel again and again.” 

Encourage Time Away from the Books

Group of girls running, laughing at football train

The pressure on teens to do well in their exams has never been higher. But it’s not necessarily a good idea to stop all activities to cram in additional study. Exercise can actually help kids get more out of their study time. “For me in school, sport and exercise was a guilt-free bit of time away from study, particularly in my Leaving Cert years,” Thomas explains. “It was also very sociable as I would be meeting up with my friends at athletics, or rugby training or whatever the activity was. I came back to the books refreshed, energised and feeling far better. It left me feeling sharper and more willing to take on the workload.” 

Find an Activity They Enjoy

Not all kids are into sports and luckily, there are other ways to keep active. Things like yoga, dance or martial arts are all excellent ways to keep fit. Try out a few different things to see what your child enjoys. “If there is something they are interested in outside of the PlayStation or iPad, pursue it as they are far more likely to keep it up!” says Thomas.

Tech is not the enemy though, it can actually be a really good way to get your child motivated in the early days. “It may seem counterintuitive,” Thomas notes, “but if they are very techy or involved in their gadgets, it might be an idea to get some sort of activity tracking watch so they can see how many steps they have done. Most kids are competitive to some degree and will want to see that number increase.” 

Lead by Example

Mother, Father, Son & Daughter jogging on seafront

According to the HSE, Children whose parents or guardians are active are more than 5 times as likely to stay active. Use your weekends as an opportunity to get active as a family. “Take part in activities with them like cycling, jogging, kicking a ball around or walking on the beach with the dog,” Thomas notes. “I was an awkward child at times. I didn't want to go training in the bad weather or go for a Sunday morning walk on the beach, but my parents made sure I still went. I was always the better for it.” 

Persevere

Any adult who’s attempted to start a new fitness regime will know just how daunting it can be and kids feel that pressure too. Starting something new can make all of us a bit nervous. Encourage them to persevere for a few weeks to see if they start to enjoy it. “My parents were very encouraging towards sport,” Thomas recalls. “At times I didn't want to go training or to competitions or matches. I didn't want to try out new sports if my friends weren't, but they encouraged me to give it a try and I often ended up loving it.”   

The Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge 2020 is kicking off soon. You can find out more about the challenge here.