Childhood obesity is an issue that is gaining attention across the United States, and according to the American Heart Association, it now tops the list of health concerns for parents in the U.S. In the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in five American children and teens is obese. Many of these children will face chronic obesity-related health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, joint problems or asthma at some point in their lives.

Dr. Shelley Armstrong, faculty member in the School of Health Sciences at Walden University and a certified health and physical educator, says, “Obesity is a very serious health and well-being issue and we can eliminate many of our kids’ physical, social, emotional and even academic challenges by keeping our kids fit. When parents put a value on health and physical activity, kids are more likely to emulate that. Fitness must become a family affair.”

Dr. Armstrong offers the following tips on how families can get started on a healthy lifestyle and incorporate family fitness into their daily lives while making it fun.

Identify a time to get started. For many, the new year signals a time for fresh starts. However, anytime is a good time to get your family motivated to start living a healthy lifestyle.

Know your family’s numbers. Become knowledgeable about the baseline numbers for each of your family members (i.e., body weight, body mass index, blood pressure, etc.). Knowing these numbers will help you set goals for your family and work toward them.

Set goals. Parents and children can both benefit from setting exercise goals that follow the SMART method: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-oriented. Setting specific goals is important in order to stay motivated, overcome barriers and achieve success. For example, set a goal that your family will work up to walking briskly for a half hour after dinner three nights a week by the end of three months.

Create a family fitness plan. Engage the entire family to identify fun fitness activities such as bike rides, basketball or soccer games, family boot camp at a local park or even an old-fashioned game of tag. Then create a plan and build these activities into the daily routine to help your family members make gradual and steady progress toward their goals.

Take inventory of your daily schedule. The leading barrier for families to start and stay on an exercise plan is time. Keep track of your family’s daily schedule for a week and identify time each day when you can include fitness activity.

Limit sedentary time. The American Heart Association recommends that children get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. To encourage physical activity, parents can limit the amount of sedentary time children spend watching TV, sitting in front of a computer or playing video games each day, and substitute it with movement.

Model a healthy lifestyle. Parents are the primary role models for their children and it is important that they set a positive example to lead healthy lifestyles. When parents put a value on health, physical activity and nutrition, kids will emulate that.

For additional information on healthy living, check out these articles with insight from other Walden faculty members: