Summertime brings to mind visions of kids running around, climbing trees, splashing water, and generally being kids. That level of physical activity is very important for motor development, healthy bodies and healthy minds.
Yet, according to ParticipACTION's website, only 13 per cent of Canadian children and youth are getting the recommended 90 minutes of daily physical activity.
That doesn't mean kids need to hit the gym or the field for an hour and a half every day. It means they need to have an active lifestyle, with movement as part of their daily routine.
"The activity does not need to be all at once. It can be spread throughout the day," says Pam Mills, program/marketing officer with Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador. "For example, they can walk to school, play at recess and lunch time, attend physical education class and then have some active play time after school."
Mills says parents can play a big part in increasing their children's fitness by modelling an active lifestyle, and by creating opportunities for family activities.
"Parents can inspire kids to be more active by participating in activity with their kids, modelling healthy lifestyle habits and making physical activity a fun, everyday positive experience."
Make it a family affair
Dr. Antony Card, with MUN's school of kinesiology and recreation, agrees that when parents encourage daily active play, it can make a big difference in a child's health.
"What really has an effect is where parents go to the park with their kids or they do something at the end of the day or after school or something like that."
Physical health does not necessarily correspond with size, since a heavier child can be quite fit while a slender child can be quite inactive and not physically fit.
Fitness is about how the body's systems work, not about size.
"The reason physical activity is important is because of the internal benefits, cardiovascularly, the way their heart pumps, their lung capacity, their overall muscle development." says Natalie Langor, fitness manager for Goodlife Fitness/Women's Only in the Village Shopping Centre.
"It helps give them more mobility."
Langor says the benefits of fitness and physical activity go beyond a healthy body; physical fitness also helps kids to have healthy minds, encouraging them to think differently, and boosting their self-esteem.
Mills says the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on reports that active kids also perform better in school.
"Physically active children learn better than children who are not active. Physical activity improves memory, concentration and attention span," she says.
"In addition to improving test scores, physical activity increases a child's self-confidence, self-esteem, self-image and connection to school."
The ParticipACTION website suggests that a healthy lifestyle is about making small choices that make a difference in the long term.
One of those choices can be to schedule time for kids to be active every day, perhaps as an after school (or after supper) activity.
Langor advises making activity about family time.
"Going for walks is always a great thing to do. Make it a family thing. Make it about the family, not about the physical activity. Kind of throw it in there at the same time."
Walks are one way to get kids who are not sports-inclined involved in physical activity, but they can also get lots of exercise through active games, using their bikes, or climbing at the playground.
Mills suggests getting children to suggest or pick the type of activities they would like to try, and parents can help by trying or creating activities that aren't traditional sport or exercise.
"From my experience with working with kids, children like low-organized recreation activities. I like to play non-competitive, non-traditional sports games, which lets everyone concentrate on just having fun and being active, rather than being the best and keeping score.
"Whether families choose organized sports or playing tag, creating a fitness habit in childhood will help kids throughout their lives," Mills says.
"Kids who are active get a healthy start. They are healthier and are more likely to continue physical activity and a healthy lifestyle as an adult."
Active Healthy Kids Canada: www.activehealthykids.ca
ParticipACTION : www.participaction.com
Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador's Small Steps Big Results: www.recreationnl.com/smallstepsbigresults
With your family and friends
Walk your dog and invite your family and friends to join you
Throw on a fun upbeat CD or turn on the radio and dance to the music for at least 10- 15 minutes
Walk to the store
Start a walking club with your neighbours and friends
Attend community events and fairs that offer physical activity opportunities
Join a sports league together
With your kids
Get them to help wash and wax the car
Go out and play with your kids - play tag or catch, shoot hoops, kick the can, skip rope, jump
Hopscotch or hula hoop
Organize a neighbourhood game of baseball with your kids
Make a snowman, snow fort or igloo
Walk them to day care, school or a friend's house
Have a snowball fight
Fly a kite
Go to the local swimming pool
Get them a newspaper delivery route
Play a game of golf or miniature golf
Participate in a community charity walk
Volunteer to coach one of their sports teams
When watching your kids play sports, don't sit on the sidelines; walk around the field/stadiums
Take a bike ride
Go for a nature hike
Go fruit or berry-picking
Build an inukshuk
Take advantage of local parks and community recreation and sport facilities