How to Motivate Kids to Exercise

How to Motivate Kids to Exercise

(ARA)- Video games. School vending machines. Internet surfing. It's all helping create a new generation of unhealthier, more sedentary youth. Experts partly blame low participation in sports, cuts in physical education and less walking and biking to school. There are so many distractions found in new television, computer and video game technology, without strong motivation adolescents are at risk of becoming inactive. So what motivates teens to exercise and stay healthy?
Two new studies in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine explore the reasoning behind kids' and teens' choices about exercise and dieting.
Researchers at the State University of New York at Albany surveyed 200 middle school students on their motivations for exercising. They discovered that both boys and girls were most likely to say that personal enjoyment or wanting to be fit was their main motivation to exercise, a finding that surprised lead researcher, Katie Haverly, M.S.
"You might expect that adolescent girls would be motivated to be physically active for the purposes of weight loss or weight maintenance, but we did not find that to be true." Haverly stated that the students who were motivated by personal enjoyment exercised or played sports because it felt good, to be healthy and to improve their skills. "We were just surprised that adolescents would report that they felt that way about physical activity."
But the researchers also found that a child's motivations changed depending on their abilities. Students who felt they weren't skilled at sports were less likely to be motivated by personal enjoyment than those who were more athletic.
Haverly suggests that stressing the health aspects of physical activity, instead of athleticism and competition, could encourage participation by kids who feel less confident in their abilities. "These students would be most motivated to be active if they could improve their skills while being active, if the activity is enjoyable and if the activity improves their health and fitness," Haverly says.
In addition to requiring physical education in schools, Haverly recommends that administrators promote a wide variety of fun, skill-building activities. "An environment that offers different choices or ways to be active would be helpful, because not all adolescents will find the same activities fun, rewarding or motivating."
Research has also shown that a child's parents have an effect on the way they think about exercise and dieting. Children not only imitate their parents' habits, good or bad, but also respond to what they believe is important to their parents. In a second study in the same issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers questioned over 9,000 teens and their mothers about weight and dieting. They found that girls were much more likely to think about being thinner if they thought it was important to their mothers. Interestingly enough whether or not a mother actually wanted her daughter to be thinner had less of an impact than the daughter's perception of her mother's opinion. The researchers also noticed an association between a mother's repeated attempts at weight loss and her daughter's dieting.
Mothers were found to have less of an effect on their sons' ideas about weight. Only sons who correctly guessed that their mothers thought weight loss was important were more likely to think about being thinner.
The study's lead author, Alison E. Field, Sc.D., of Harvard Medical School, warns that parents should be careful when talking to their children about weight issues. "Parents are justified in not wanting their adolescents to be overweight. However, it is essential to strike a balance between promoting a healthy weight and not placing too much emphasis on the importance of weight."
The researchers suggested that parents should be role models to their children by incorporating exercise and healthy eating into their everyday lives, rather than imposing these strategies on their kids. Doctors who treat overweight adolescents should be sure to promote exercise for benefits other than weight loss, such as improving self-esteem.

Courtesy of ARA Content