Prevent Diabetes by Making Kids Love to Exercise

Dad benching kidsDiabetes is no longer just a problem for adults. The disease is being diagnosed in children with even greater frequency today than ever before, and is now considered to be one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents.

When I was a kid I did not want to be unhealthy. I did not want to be overweight. And I certainly did not want to have diabetes.  But as kids, we gravitate towards things with immediate gratification – activities that are fun, and foods that taste good. When a 12-year-old is choosing between what they want to do now and what some adult says is “better in the long run” – now is always going to trump later.

Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are two of the top ways to prevent diabetes.  So for National Diabetes Awareness Month, what if we found a way to make living healthier something kids want to do to?  Make what they want to do now the same as what’s better in the long run?

The Field Zone, a Southfield community group for youth, is working on just that.  This year, the Field Zone launched a 5-week challenge to get their youth members – ages 12 through 16 – moving.  Kids walk, run, play basketball, compete in musical chairs, line dance and even learn Taekwondo.   Throughout the challenge, they log their activity, both at the club and at home.  At the end of the challenge, students with the most activity will win gift cards for the holiday season.  And it’s working!  The kids are engaged and enthusiastic about exercising and tracking their progress.

There are easy things that Field Zone is doing that you could replicate at home to motivate your own kids to love exercising:

  • Introduce them to different types of activity:  Exercise doesn’t feel like exercise when it’s fun.  Dancing, bowling, biking, laser tag and fitness video games are just a few examples of things kids love to do.  Provide opportunities for kids to explore new activities with family when they’re young, and don’t be surprised when that’s their go-to hangout with friends as they get older.
  • Teach them to track their own progress:  Have a fitness calendar for them to mark the days they’re active.  If they’re older, teach them to take note of their mile time or other performance indicators.  You may want to consider buying the family some inexpensive pedometers.  You’d be surprised how motivating a cheap tracking gadget can be.
  • Make it a fun game: A light competition – between family members or themselves – can be extremely motivating.  Get creative and make a wheel of small prizes for your family.  The family member with the most steps or days of activity gets to spin the wheel win from options like “gets to pick dinner,” “controls the remote for the night,” or whatever fun prizes you think your family would like.   

Do you have any ideas on how to motivate kids to love exercise?  Please share!

Photo Credit:  Elyse Patten

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