February is American Heart Month, and while many people think of heart disease as an adult medical issue, it’s important to remember that having a healthy heart starts in childhood. I try to remind my young patients that their heart is a muscle, and just like the other muscles in their body it needs exercise to be strong. However, this time of year, it can be a challenge to keep kids active. I know my own children love to play outside in the snow, but this winter has been particularly brutal. There have been lots of days that even the hardiest kids (and their parents) haven’t wanted to venture out for even 10 minutes.
So what can you do if you’re stuck inside? There are plenty of options – sometimes it takes a little creativity. Remember, it’s always more fun if mom or dad join in too, so be a good sport and get your heart rate up as well. Also, while it’s recommended that kids get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, it doesn’t need to be all at once. Break it up and do 10-20 minutes at a time. It all adds up and sometimes it’s helpful to actually keep track. Kids love charts and accomplishments, so feel free to make a sticker chart for being active.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Have a dance party. Kids love music and it’s always fun (and often funny) to get a groove on with mom and dad. Pull out some of your old favorites for dancing to change it up a little.
- Follow the leader. Explore the whole house and mix it up. Add in some exercises in between those funny walks and use those stairs if you have them. Be sure to take turns with who gets to be the leader.
- Balloons. There are so many fun things to do with balloons and they are safer, and less likely to damage anything, than balls for indoors. Play the “keep the balloon up” game and try to prevent the balloon from hitting the floor. Add extra balloons to make it more challenging. Write mini-challenges, such as “Do 30 jumping jacks” or “Run up and down the stairs 5 times,” on little slips of paper and slide them into the balloon before you blow it up. Let your kids pick a balloon to pop and then they have to do what’s inside.
- Scavenger Hunts. These are my kids’ all-time favorite indoor activity. You can adjust your clues to be more challenging for older kids and feel free to add in some “exercise” clues (Run in place for 60 seconds, then …). The American Heart Association has a fun “Healthy Challenge Scavenger Hunt” on their website if you’re looking for inspiration.
- Hot Spot stations. Set up stations in a larger open area for your kids to rotate through every 30-60 seconds. Have instructions at each station telling them what to do such as run in place, sit-ups, dance, jumping jacks, hula hoop, etc. You can use old milk jugs filled with some water for weights if wanted. For older kids, encourage them to keep track of repetitions and aim to improve.
- Use your garage. If you have a garage, leave the cars parked outside for a few hours and use the open space for activity. Use empty boxes to set up goals for a mini soccer game or try to throw balls into the boxes for points. You can use chalk to make hopscotch or even blow bubbles for your kids to run around and pop.
- Ask your kid for ideas. Sometimes, they have the best ideas for fun and are more likely to want to participate if it’s something they helped with. Try to keep an open mind and as long as it’s safe, give it a try.