Getting overweight kids off the couch

A study published online in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology indicates that exercise can increase self-esteem and reduce depressive symptoms in overweight 7 to 11 year-olds. Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia randomly placed over 200 overweight kids into groups that continued their inactive lifestyle, or exercised after school for 20 or 40 minutes. The activities included basketball, soccer, running games, and jumping rope. This continued for about 3 months. Even though the children's weight didn't change much during the study, depressive symptoms decreased and self-esteem increased in the exercise groups. This was the first study to show a dose effect for exercise, meaning that more exercise had a greater impact.

Previous research has shown that aerobic exercise reduces depressive symptoms, but one of the symptoms of depression is fatigue or a loss of energy, making it less likely that the person will exercise. How can you motivate your kids to participate in these athletic activities? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Start them young, if possible. Encouraging an active lifestyle when kids are young may be protective against the possible onset of depressive symptoms.
  2. Show them the benefits. As kids approach the teen years, you may be able to help them to understand the importance of exercise in helping them to feel better. This might help to get them off the couch.
  3. Find the fun. Find an activity your child enjoys, or create a menu of games for them to choose from.
  4. Set an example. Your child may be more likely to engage in the activity if you do it with them. Remember - we're talking about less than an hour of activity. It might not be possible for everyone's schedule on a daily basis, but if you can join with your kids sometimes, it might tip the scales toward activity.
  5. Be consistent. Set up a schedule that's reasonable, with activities occurring at about the same time every day. Hang it up where your child will see it.
  6. Track it. Keep records of your child's activity and their progress. This doesn't have to be their weight - you could track their highest number of consecutive jumps over the skipping rope.

How do you motivate your kids to exercise? Do you have any favourite activities?

Read more about the study here.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.