By Michele Bacigalupo
Photo courtesy of Wendy Copley.
Childhood obesity is a rising epidemic that cannot be ignored. In the past 30 years, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled among adolescents. Obesity and being overweight in general are the result of a caloric imbalance–when too few calories are used in comparison to the amount consumed.
An obvious contributing factor to the increasing levels of childhood obesity is the digital takeover. More games and TV programs are available for kids on the internet and electronic devices than ever before. Children are no longer begging their parents to play outside, go to the park, or kick a ball around. Instead, they are asking for more time to watch Netflix, play video games, or talk to friends on social media.
These popular activities have one disastrous element in common–they are all sedentary. They require almost no movement, save for the use of fingers on a keypad or game controller.
Children are moving less than ever before. They aren’t interested in spending their days outside because their connection to the world and their way of relating to peers is translated through a screen. Parents naturally want to make their kids happy. As a result, it’s hard to expect parents to consistently motivate their kids to expend energy in healthy ways. After all, adults need to devote a large chunk of time to their digital agendas as well.
The solution lies in making these healthy activities fun, exciting, and appealing to kids. One way to go about it without leaving the comfort of home is by creating an indoor obstacle course. Kids will be encouraged to jump at the chance to complete the challenges as quickly as possible. Without even realizing it, they will be exercising and working on vital motor skills.
It is recommend by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that children incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day in order to maintain good mental and physical health. However, it’s tough for parents with demanding schedules to transport their children from one activity to another. Sports teams and extracurriculars also come with a price tag. In comparison, constructing an in-home obstacle course can be completely free and requires no travel time.
An example of a basic obstacle course may include an activity called doorway jumps, where a mat is placed in the middle of an entranceway and the children jump over it from one side to another. Kids can hone their balance skills while standing with only the left leg on one side of the mat and switching to land the jump with the right leg. Doorway jumps allow kids to practice lateral movements while strengthening stability.
Remote control floor touches are another possible method, in which kids hold a remote control in one hand while again standing with one leg on the ground. The children will try to touch the remote control to the ground without losing balance or letting the other leg fall. To make the exercise more challenging, tell the kids to complete as many touches as they can without involving the use of their other leg. This activity is great for balance and leg strength.
Another fun experience is telling children to start the couch sit and jump. While the kids sit on the couch, instruct them to jump up with their feet and land carefully in the original sitting position. This event can be repeated 20 times before moving on to the next activity. Children will develop leg strength while increasing heart rate. Outside of the obstacle course, the couch sit and jump is an easy way to break up commercials while watching TV and sneaking in some exercise.
In between events, children can race back to the starting point, complete five jumping jacks, and then run to the next event. By demanding a return to start after each activity, the obstacle course becomes even more thrilling, making it seem like a real competition.
By installing an obstacle course in the home, children are granted a healthy outlet for their surplus amount of energy. It may inspire them to pursue more athletic ambitions in the future. Perhaps one day they will participate in their own Spartan Race or Mud Runner, an extreme test of strength and endurance. In the meantime, a simple indoor obstacle course will teach children the joys of being active, and it will successfully direct their attention on something other than a computer screen.