On Your Health

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Ways to Keep Your Kids Healthy and Active This Summer

06 June 2019

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In the past, summer days for kids meant ball games with friends, hours of swimming pools and lakes, riding bikes until sundown, and exploring the natural world in backyards and parks. But today’s kids have more distractions that keep them from being as active and healthy.

Most parents want their kids to disconnect from television and video games so they don’t spend the entire summer binging Netflix or texting as their only means of communication.

Childhood is a period of important physical, personal, mental and emotional growth. If you keep their bodies and minds engaged during the summer your kids have a better chance of excelling in school in the fall (not to mention retaining what they learned the year before).

Let’s get physical

If a child is physically active from a young age, it creates habits that lead to an active adult life. The benefits of physical activity are endless and so important. Exercise promotes growth, development and a healthy weight, builds strong bones and muscles, improves posture, helps with the development of gross motor and fine motor skills, burns excess energy, establishes connections between different parts of the brain and so much more.

Without regular exercise, your child's health will suffer. One study by the American Journal of Public Health showed the body mass index of more than 5,000 kindergartners and first graders increased by almost twice as much during summer break, compared with the rest of the school year.

Make sure your kids get 60 minutes of physical activity each day!

  • Enroll them in local sports or recreational programs. Community centers, churches and YMCAs host summer camps and sports programs. Ask your child for feedback on which camp or sport sounds most appealing.
  • Encourage your children to ride a bike, skate, rollerblade or walk to get to their friends’ houses or places they want to go (within a reasonable distance).
  • Get a pass to a local swimming pool. (It’s also a good time to enroll them in swimming lessons for safety).
  • Host a sprinkler party in your backyard.
  • Take a daily visit to a local park for exploration, play and nature.
  • Tour local museums, zoos and aquariums. Not only will you and your kid get your steps in, but your child can learn about new topics, interests and history.
  • Go camping! A family outing to a state or national park or to a nearby recreational area offers loads of fun and exercise.
  • Volunteer. Kids can volunteer to walk dogs at local animal shelters, serve meals to the less fortunate or collect food for local food banks.
  • Schedule some good old-fashioned playtime. Go outside with your kids to play tug-of-war, hopscotch or throw a ball. For a list of awesome backyard games, check out these ideas from BuzzFeed.

feet dangling in lake

Eating right in the summer

How is eating healthy for kids different in the summer? Summer is traditionally a time for cookouts, vacations and parties that are abundant in hot dogs, cupcakes, sweets, chips and dips and other indulgences.

While it is okay to let your child have a sweet treat at the family reunion or try a funnel cake at the state fair, a summer diet should include as many healthy vegetables, fruits and lean meats as possible.

You can use many tricks to make summer food healthier. Try mixing ground beef with lean turkey for a lower-fat hamburger, or choose turkey hot dogs over regular ones. Use the grill to make vegetable and chicken skewers or grill some lean fish in fun packets. Even Tex-Mex has a healthy spin if you use sautéed vegetables in quesadillas, grilled chicken for tacos or reduced-fat beans over nachos.

A good rule of thumb? Add some color to every meal. Aim to have five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. And don’t forget the water! At least four full glasses of water every day.

How do you get your child excited about eating healthy?

  • Let kids do the cooking and choose recipes. Kids are always more excited about food when they have a say. Try coming up with a list of healthy recipes they can pick from and let them help with mixing, chopping and cooking.
  • Explore your local farmers markets and U-Pick farms. Your kids will enjoy picking out their own fruits and vegetables, plus they get the added bonus of learning where their food comes from. Here’s a great link to U-Pick Farms in OKC.
  • Swap out the candy bowl for more nutritious choices like as apples, pistachios, dried fruit or bunches of grapes.
  • Go online for ideas. Pinterest has hundreds of healthy meal ideas, and also has a Children’s Corner packed with information to get your picky eaters excited about healthy food.
  • Create a cookbook together. Using scrapbooking or online software, have your child choose favorite (healthy) recipes and create a cookbook together. Plus, the cookbooks make great gifts for grandparents!

boy playing in splash park

Exercise the mind

Mentally stimulating activities are vital for kids in the summer to stave off boredom and “brain drain.” Here are some ways to stimulate their minds during the summer.

  • Stick to a routine. Chores are important because they promote responsibility and time management. Even though school is out, a set bedtime and wake-up time are important, plus it will make the back-to-school transition easier.
  • Incorporate fun learning exercises every day. Puzzles, vocabulary games, educational videos, math exercises and reading will keep your kids mentally alert. Sign them up for the summer reading program at your local library or visit a local museum to keep them learning.
  • Every day should include some sort of activity that kids can look forward to, even if it’s as simple as walking in a park or planning the family vacation. Busy time means less time spent moping because they are bored or missing their friends.
  • Find opportunities for your kids to give back to the community and to help others less fortunate. This will help them develop important character-building traits.
  • Explore a new hobby. Kids crave diversity, so try new things! How about painting rocks, writing stories, exploring a new sport, taking an acting class, rock climbing, dancing, fencing, learning martial arts or knitting?

With a little planning, it’s easy to find the proper balance of fun, relaxation, enrichment and positive mental health. As always, your INTEGRIS Health doctor can help answer any questions on how to keep your family healthy.