Exercise, obesity, road safety – what’s a parent to do?

There’s been a lot of coverage in the media recently about how kids don’t get half as much what we might call “incidental” exercise as they used to.

These days, parents are too worried about the safety of their children and so they tend to drive them everywhere, don’t let them walk and play outside with their friends when they don’t know where they are – and certainly don’t let them cycle around on their bikes on the roads.


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Of course, all this has a few different effects but chief among them are that it actually adds to the country’s burgeoning traffic problems as Mums and Dads all around the UK join the great school run each morning and/or evening. And the children, therefore, do get too little exercise which is incidental to their daily lives – such as simply playing out with other children, riding their bikes and walking to and from school. It’s all a bit of a vicious cycle (pardon the pun) – and it contributes to some of the other well-publicised societal problems being faced in the UK by families at the moment including childhood obesity – most notably in the Key Stage 2 (7-11 year old) age range..

This is all a bit of a dilemma for busy parents. It seems you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. After all – for those of us living in built up urban areas (and this is by far the majority of the UK’s population by the way) there’s no way on earth you’d dream about letting your children ride to and from school on their bikes each day – no matter how desirable this may otherwise be for all sorts of reasons.

Walking to and from school is a lot safer, but even this can be very dangerous in some parts of the country though it is, on the whole, a lot more desirable.

So as parents, we need to try and balance out things which are un-balanceable! We want our children to play out, to cycle whenever they can, and to walk to and from school if this is at all practicable – whilst making sure they’re as close as possible to being 100% safe all the time. This isn’t achievable, of course, and most of us parents realise the need to strike the right balance. What this means in practice is that most of us encourage our children to walk to and from school, and we will encourage them to cycle wherever it’s safe to do so (which sometimes means driving the children and their bikes to parks and mountain bike tracks in forests etc.) and we allow them to play out as long as we know where they are and what they’re doing. But safety remains our overriding consideration.

But when you consider that close to a third of the whole population of the UK lives either within the M25 ring, or not far without it (i.e. within reasonable commuting distance of the capital) then it isn’t difficult to see why our children aren’t getting enough incidental exercise. And all the good intentions and well-meaning campaigns in the world won’t change our minds about child safety being the number one consideration.

And then, of course, society makes it harder still in many other ways. These are mainly concerned with the peer group; if other children aren’t playing out or riding their bikes or walking to and from school – your children don’t want to be seen to be different. And if the modern version of play is to sit indoors playing on tablets as all kids seem to be doing these days – then that’s what your children will do too.

So the best trick you can learn is to try and steer them into the right peer groups as early as possible. This is easier said than done but sports club and activities, and other real activities such as art, dance, drama and music are great ways forward in this regard.

Starting with sports – even if your child isn’t the most athletic kid out there – is a sensible move and there are always sports they can get into which will help steer them in the right direction. So, at the risk of insulting cricketers all around the world – how about cricket for starters, if your child shows the slightest interest?

Getting them to watch a game on TV and taking them to a real life event can be a good way to get started – and cricket isn’t too physically demanding. It’s an exciting game that some kids just show a natural aptitude for and liking of. They have fun and hardly even know they’re getting exercise.

Next summer will present a great opportunity to do just that as the Ashes series between England and Australia will be held here in England. England lost all five tests in the last Ashes series down-under – so will be determined to put things right over the five tests in the summer of 2015. As things stand, Australia are represented as the favourites to retain the Ashes in the cricket betting with Betfair, the world’s largest gambling exchange at 5/6.

But if a series as exciting as next year’s Ashes competition doesn’t get children interested in cricket – then nothing will. So what about other sports?

Of course, it may be that they’ll prefer other more athletic sports. Watching Wimbledon fires kids’ enthusiasm for the game almost by tradition each June and early July. The trick is in capitalising upon what may otherwise be a relatively brief craze to get them into a club either privately or at school – then making some kind of commitment to play the sport regularly. Of course, this may also necessitate some kind of commitment from you as parents, too; so explain tis to your child/children when they show enthusiasm for whatever sport you manage to get them interested in – and explain it’s a partnership.

If they tend to the side of life which is a little more sedentary, though, then sports like the afore-mentioned cricket, or walking, cycling, table tennis, bowling, golf and so on are still a lot better than nothing – and they get your child on the right track peer group-wise. Also – all these sports can be played in very physically demanding ways – and this is ever more the case the better you get at playing them. So they’re ideal for the less lively kids out there are as the fitness builds steadily along with the improving skill level – and it all happens incidentally as the children are all having lots of fun doing something they love.

For most kids, peers definitely work best. And the older they get – the more this is a true. But when they’re really young which is the ideal time to get started down this route of course, then you’ll probably do just as well as friends. Younger children generally love to play their parents at sports and the younger they start, the better they’ll be. So go along with them as well and be sure to give it a try – whatever the sport; the whole family will love it and it gets them in the right groove good and early.

It isn’t easy getting the balance right as parents these days – but one thing’s for sure; sitting in the bedroom or living room playing computer games on tablets is no way for children to grow up.

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