Healthy Kids: Promoting Physical Activity

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by Marla Balzer, Physical Therapist, Olivia's Place

by Marla Balzer, Physical Therapist, Olivia’s Place

For any of us it can be difficult to find the time and motivation to be physically active on a daily basis. Families, in particular, may find this challenging as they juggle the schedules of children’s school and leisure activities, parents’ work and personal responsibilities, as well as making time for the whole family. Living in Shanghai can also provide some unique challenges as we battle with traffic, air quality, and a constantly ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle for kids and parents alike.


So how do we make time to be physically active? How do we make physical activity fun and exciting? And, how do we help our children to develop a life long interest in keeping physically active?  These are challenges, but ones well worth taking on as we know that engaging in daily physical activity is not only beneficial for our bodies but for our minds as well.  As adults, we may see physical activity as a means to stay fit, to release stress or to get away from the daily grind. For children, physical activity can help to develop motor skills, enhance concentration, improve muscle groups important for sitting and performing academic activities such as writing, and allow a child an appropriate outlet for extra energy.


Making the Time

Most people view physical activity in a fairly static way. It takes place in a particular venue, such as a gym, for a set amount of time. When we view exercise only in this way, it can become increasingly difficult to find the time, especially with a busy family. A healthier approach to getting your family more physically active is to ‘add it up’ throughout the day.  You may walk with your kids to school, take the stairs in your building, dance in your living room, or attend a structured activity, but all of these moments can be added up throughout the day to achieve the goal of 60 minutes of physical activity. Keep in mind that you may not always achieve the goal of 60 minutes, however, setting the intention of performing some amount of physical activity daily and allowing yourself the ability to add up different types of activities will put you much closer to that goal than you may think.  If your family’s schedule doesn’t really allow for this type of informal adding up of physical activity then it will be important to identify several times throughout the week where some type of physical activity can be slotted in at a time when all or most of your family members are available.  This is where setting exercise goals for your family can be helpful in sticking to a routine.  It is easy to be quite general with your goals, such as ‘As a family we will find time to be physically active during the week’ but this goal is quite difficult to achieve as there is no real way to monitor your progress.  Creating goals that are specific, measureable, achievable, reasonable, and timely (otherwise known as S.M.A.R.T.) will allow your family to really know what they are striving for and will create a sense of greater success when the goal is achieved.  A family physical activity S.M.A.R.T. goal may look something like this: ‘As a family we will be physically active for 30 to 60 minutes three times a week for the next two months’.  You can then create a chart or use your calendar to log the types of physical activity you try as a family, check off the days of the week you are active, and keep the goal visually insight. Remember try to make the goal reasonable, achievable, and fun!

Make it Fun

The most important aspect of physical activity for children is to make sure that it is fun. While organized sports are a great way to keep some children physically active they may not always be appealing to all children.  Thinking of more creative and non-competitive ways to keep your kids moving as well as using daily activities such as walking, taking the stairs, and helping with chores can be a subtle means of introducing physical activity into your child’s routine.  There are a number of ways to get creative ideas for keeping your kids and your family physically active:


1. Activity Card Decks: these portable decks of cards describe physical activities and games that children and family members can participate in.  The cards can be used as individual activities for short breaks between homework or after school. Several cards can also be put together to create a longer activity to play with family and friends. With these cards as examples, kids and families can also start to create their own activity deck as well.

Some ideas to get you started:

- Move It Monsters – available through Olivia’s Place

- Yoga Pretzels: 50 fun yoga activities for kids and grown ups – Baron Baptiste; available through

- FitDeck offer Superman FitDeck Exercise Cards for Kids; available through

- Super Duper Publications offer a number of card decks including Yogarilla Cards and Activities and Move Your Body fun deck; available through or (click on Occupational Therapy)


2. Iphone and Android Apps: someone in the family most likely has a tablet or a phone on which you can download apps.  These days, there are a great number of physical activity and yoga apps designed specifically with kids in mind.

Some ideas to get you started (check out for other ideas):

- Super Stretch Yoga HD

- Iron kids

- Wiggle HD

- Zak & Zelda Wake Up


3. Take it outside: go outside with your kids when possible to reduce their ‘screen time’ and introduce them to the wonders of nature. Shanghai has a number of parks and outdoors spaces where kids can run around, ride a bike, or roller blade (check out Shanghai Family magazine or website for recommendations).  You can also take your activity cards and apps outdoors to add more natural elements to obstacle courses and other activities.  Alternatively, Shanghai also has a number of indoor activity venues that can help to keep your kids active on less seasonable days.


4. Have an adventure:  do some research as a family into an activity that you would all like to try but never have.  Some good examples may be indoor rock climbing, horseback riding, tai chi, or dragon boating. By making efforts to try new activities you demonstrate to your kids that physical activity is also about having fun and exploring new things.

By introducing physical activity to your children and family through fun activities we hope to create the desire to be active everyday. So go ahead and get moving!