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Exercise for kids

How much exercise should our children be getting – what kind is best and at what age? Planning our kids’ work-outs can be a marathon effort, as parenting expert and mum of three, Katie Brown explains…

At school I always preferred the sports field to the classroom. And my husband’s happiest moments involve scoring the winning goal for his soccer team…

So when our son Lucas turned five we enrolled him in soccer.

Alec and I stood on the sidelines ready to cheer him on.

But instead of chasing the ball, Lucas pretended to be a T-Rex.

While we persisted, he resisted. It was the same story at Nippers, soft ball and cricket…

I found myself treading a careful path between encouragement and acceptance, while urging him to find an exercise that didn’t involve hitting his sister or jumping on the sofa.

Then one day, I saw a sign. ‘That’s it!’ I said to Lucas. Tae Ki Do Kai.

The next week we met instructor, Hanshi Kevin Lee.

‘It’s like being a Ninja,’ Lucas whispered to me after class. That was 18 months ago.

Lucas, eight, is now a committed martial arts fan – even achieving a brown belt.

But Lucas is still in the minority – most of his school friends have a different sport every afternoon. But is he doing enough? Are they doing too much? Will he get obese?

If it’s sending your brain into a never-ending spin class, then you’re not alone.

Sue Cutbill runs Kids Exercise in Sydney and is a paediatric fitness specialist.

She says: ‘Up to about two, children should have lots of active play in the playground and garden. From about two-and-a-half, a child’s attention span starts to improve so you can enroll them into a gross motor program.’

And as for skilled sports, such as soccer, Sue suggests five or six. ‘Any younger and they might become demoralised if they aren’t able to master the manoeuvres,’ she says.  

Sue recommends a minimum of one hour’s exercise a day for all children.

She says: ‘The more exercise they do, the better. But it’s also important not to overschedule the kids.’ Keep a couple of afternoons free for simple pleasures such as bike riding and playing in the garden.

As children reach the pre-teen years, they can become less interested in sport. Sue says one way to keep children keen is to be active and enjoy fitness as a family and take part in community activities such as martial arts, soccer or joining a dance club.

So, now every Saturday afternoon, Lucas and I don our outfits and head to Tae Ki Do Kai. Parents are encouraged to join their offspring and Lucas can run rings around me – without being told off.

Hmmm… perhaps I’d have been happier as a soccer mum, after all…?

 (this column was first published in Fernwood magazine) 

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