Despite the many health benefits associated with regular physical activity, many children and adolescents do not participate in physical activity for the recommended 60 minutes or more each day, resulting in childhood obesity. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.

It’s not surprising that overweight kids often don’t like to exercise. Exercising in public can be humiliating if your weight makes it more difficult to move around. In fact, just wearing shorts and a T-shirt in front of other kids can be too embarrassing. Bullying is a major reason why overweight kids don’t exercise. Overweight children are bullied more than other kids, and they tend to avoid situations where they have been picked on, such as gym classes or sports. But avoiding exercise isn’t the answer. Hardening of the arteries can start during childhood in obese and inactive children. Regular exercise can help children reduce – and even reverse — the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

All kids want to feel competent and self-efficient in any activity they do. But, how do we get them to this point? For starters, choose exercises that don’t take a lot of extra coordination and skill. Brisk walking, bicycling, and swimming are all good options. Start off slow and easy. As mentioned, kids should get 60 minutes or more of exercise a day, but that can be a lot for a kid who hasn’t been active. Start with just five to ten minutes of play. For example, throw a Frisbee or play volleyball for just a few minutes and then stop when the time is up. The idea is to show kids that moving can be fun and to leave them craving more. Try to avoid elimination games. Some games, such as dodgeball, make it too easy to be eliminated from play. These kinds of games can make an overweight child feel self-conscious, and then the child sits out for the rest of the game and doesn’t get any exercise.

Make family time exercise time. One of the best ways to help someone get more exercise is to be active with them. For example, play with your child at the playground or go swimming together rather than just watching. Getting the whole family involved will also make it less likely that your overweight child will feel singled out. Parents need to be role models and stress the value of healthy living to their children on a daily basis. A family activity that may be especially helpful for overweight kids is walking the family dog. Walking a dog doesn’t seem like exercise to kids, so it’s especially good for overweight children who may otherwise shy away from being active. And walking with a dog can help increase social contact and provide a level of social support.

When considering the best type of kids’ exercise for your child, it’s helpful to try to tap into activities that work to your child’s age, interests, and strengths. For the elementary school-aged child, expose them to as many activities as possible. At this age, kids often like team sports, such as soccer, basketball, or volleyball.  For kids that don’t like team sports, try activities such as gymnastics, swimming, or dance. If your child feels self-conscious about their weight, they may feel more comfortable being active in the house or own backyard. You can try to find fun ways for them to exercise at home, like setting up an obstacle course, using an active video game, or playing catch. If your overweight child is reluctant to try any kind of exercise, it may be helpful to find a mentor. Younger children often look up to older kids or adults and enjoy doing things with them. Look for an older friend, relative, neighbor, or personal trainer to be active with your child. This will help her see that it’s “cool” to exercise. For teens, it can be a bit trickier to get them interested in new activities. You may need to start with small changes This may mean walking to school, doing chores, being active with friends, or volunteering. Your teen may also be interested in doing active things with you, such as taking a fitness or yoga class, going on walks, or training for a charity walk or run together. You can also turn your teen’s love of technology into activity. There are all kinds of fun apps that teens can use to track their physical activity. Or your teen might be interested in doing a GPS scavenger hunt, also known as geocaching, which uses global positioning system devices to direct them to treasure boxes hidden in a variety of locations.

In whatever you decide to do to combat childhood obesity, remember to keep at it. If one approach or type of kids’ exercise doesn’t work right away, don’t be discouraged. There are no simple answers, and no single activity is right for all kids. The key is to stay positive and be active.

About the Author

Christopher Kazda is a Certified Personal Trainer and a Chiropractic Technician at New Beginnings Chiropractic, 1861 Business Hwy 18/151, Mount Horeb, WI 53572. He is available Monday through Saturday to help you reach your fitness goals.

Please call 715-302-2153 or 608-437-9990, email at, or visit, for more information or to schedule an appointment.