A Summer Fitness Game Plan

Tips for a healthy routine with moderate use of screen media

Video games, television and computers have been implicated in the obesity trend because they encourage children to sit for long periods of time. To their credit, the video game industry has devised some ingenious ways of getting kids up and moving.

On average, these games consume about twice the energy required to play a sit-and-stare game, so they aren’t a substitute for genuine physical activity. Here are tips to build a healthy summer routine that incorporates interactive media in moderation.

Look for lively games. The Nintendo Wii has inspired a wide variety of games that encourage kids to exercise. Accessories include dumbbells and bowling bowls in addition to pads and balance boards. Kids can now simulate activities from snowboarding and hula hooping to step aerobics and tightrope walking.

The game Active Life Outdoor Challenge (Namco, $49.99) is an especially appealing combination of activities that kids might do at summer camp. Kids are most likely to stick with these games if you play as a family or invite your child’s buddies over for a friendly competition.

Count steps. Pedometers can be highly motivating tools, especially if you offer extra video time once kids walk a certain number of steps. Pre-teens can especially benefit because researchers have found that many tweens drop from very active (12,000 steps a day) to moderately active (8,000 steps).

A great goal for both adults and kids is 10,000 steps daily. If all family members wear a pedometer, you may find yourselves playing tag or walking the dog together to reach your own quota. Interactive, child-friendly pedometers are available at www.geopalz.com, where kids can track their steps to win awards and prizes.

Ban bedroom TV. It’s no surprise that kids with TV, computers and video games in their rooms use these devices more than kids whose parents keep media in a common space. Research has found that those extra hours of screen time are less likely to be supervised and more likely to turn into extra pounds.

Enforce time limits. Even Bill Gates limits the time his daughter spends on the computer. At age 10, her limit was 45 minutes a day for computer games on weekdays and an hour on weekends. During the summer, kids should have a screen time budget. Development experts recommend a maximum of two hours for TV, movies, video games and computer activities combined.

Software and other devices make it impossible for kids to use the TV or computer outside of established hours. You’ll find a collection of time-monitoring devices and other helpful products at www.familysafemedia.com. Also, Norton Family offers a free monitoring package for parents that includes a way to set time limits.

Make meals media-free. You probably don’t eat every meal together, so make it count when you gather around the dinner table. Turn off the TV. Stash the cell phones in another room. During the summer, it’s also worth experimenting with days or even weeks free from games or cell phones. Kids will discover pleasure in traditional games and pastimes. To jumpstart your memory of what you did as a kid, look up children's games on Wikipedia.

Most experts recommend kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity everyday. Your example counts. The kids most likely to find a healthy balance between viewing and doing are those whose parents regularly say, “I’m turning off the TV / cellphone / computer / PDA. It’s time to play!”

Carolyn Jabs is a freelance writer.

Categories: Fitness, Play, Tech Talk