Fun over fitness: Focus on Family Playtime

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According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Play is brain building, a central part of healthy child development, a key to executive function skills, and a buffer against the negative impacts of stress. Play builds the bond between parent and child.”

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous in order to positively influence health. Activities such as playing on a playground, running outside, team sports and riding bikes are beneficial. Take advantage of San Diego sunshine by staying active as a family and creating healthy habits that last all year and into adulthood.

Physical play helps improve sleep, self-confidence and self-esteem, strengthen bones, manage stress, and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease; it also improves social and emotional skills.

Here are eight ways to encourage family fitness through playtime:

  • Focus on fun! Choose activities your kids already enjoy, such as playing at the park, taking bike rides, riding scooters or playing sports.

  • Lead by example. Make exercise (or outdoor play) a priority in your life and let your kids see you enjoying physical activity.

  • Choose active toys. Provide bikes, scooters, balls or sand toys that encourage kids to be active—versus electronics, toys or games that can only be used at home.

  • Create boundaries around screen time. Screen time is a big reason that kids do not get enough physical activity. Use the AAP Family Media Use Plan to help your family decide on screen time use. Access the plan in English and Spanish at www.healthychildren.org.

  • Try new activities together. Visit a new park or trail, or try a new sport together to increase family bonding. It may even become a new favorite.

  • Get exercise while doing another activity. Walking around the zoo, San Diego Bay or Balboa Park is a fun way to take a long walk without a focus on exercise.

  • Let your kids take turns picking the family activity. The kids are more likely to participate when involved in scheduling a favorite activity.

  • Make play part of your routine. It’s easier to stick to new habits when you attach them to something you already do. For example, a family walk after dinner once a week, a family trip to the park on weekend mornings, or a monthly date to explore a new hiking trail. Even if you only have 10 minutes, it’s worth taking the time to play together, and you’re more likely to follow through if it’s on the schedule.

If you’re looking for a fun way to incorporate physical activity into your weekly routine, try Walk with a Doc, a nonprofit with over 400 chapters across the country. The Carlsbad chapter meets at Stagecoach Park every Tuesday at 4 p.m. and is dedicated to helping families become healthier together. It’s free for the whole family and a healthy snack is always provided. Walks also available near downtown San Diego. Learn more at www.walkwithadoc.org.

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Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and registered dietitian, and Cassandra Padgett, a health coach, lead the W.E.L.L. Clinic at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group-La Costa.

Get tons of ideas for fun family adventures in Family Magazine’s annual publication San Diego Out & About with Kids at www.sandiegofamily.com/things-to-do/out-about.

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