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How to Fit In Fitness

To get your kids moving, find physical activities they can enjoy at their own pace—and become active with them.

"Physically active parents equal physically active kids," says Melinda S. Sothern, Ph.D., director of Louisiana State University's Prevention of Childhood Obesity Laboratory.

It doesn't have to be "exercise." Dr. Sothern, coauthor of Trim Kids, suggests an "imagination station" inside, with space to dance and play with hula hoops and balloons. Outside, fill a tub with toys, Frisbees and balls.

Here are some more tips from Dr. Sothern and other experts:

  • Talk with your doctor before your child starts a major physical activity, especially if he or she weighs too much or has other health problems.

  • Cut the time you and your family watch TV or play video games. Limit time on the computer to 30-minute sessions for homework.

  • Encourage unstructured physical activity, especially for younger kids. "Have them play tag, hide-and-seek, shoot hoops, explore a playground or nature park, bicycle, scooter, fly kites, walk your dog, have a game of catch or jump rope," Dr. Sothern says.

  • Bar homework, TV, video games and the Internet for 30 to 60 minutes after kids get home from school. Urge them to play outside instead.

  • Start slowly and easily. As your children get fitter, they can do more and succeed at games and sports.

  • Do things you enjoy together.

  • Encourage your school to provide regular physical education, recess and extracurricular activities.

  • Encourage after-school programs to provide physical play.

  • Consider signing up your child for sports and recreation programs -- at a level your child can enjoy.

  • Help create a community environment that makes it easy and safe for your children to walk, ride bikes and use close-to-home facilities for physical activity.

  • Find safe havens if you live in an urban area and worry about children playing outside. Among the options: YMCAs, Boys Clubs, Girls Clubs and the Scouts.

  • Make sure your child wears a helmet when biking.