One of the biggest problems parents have in the UAE is how to get their kids active and moving. The problem is compounded during the summer, when it is nearly impossible to be out in daylight for several months of the year. Despite the many activities that Dubai offers indoors, the inside lifestyle is causing an issue when children are not getting the required amount of physical activity they need.
According to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), about one out of five people in the UAE are obese. When it comes to children, the most often-quoted statistics put the number at one in three.
Although there are a variety of guidelines available internationally, the UK’s National Health Service suggests 60 minutes of activity – moderate to vigorous – as a benchmark for children. And it doesn’t really matter what that activity is, as long as it raises the heart rate, kids breathe faster and sweat a little.
Here are a few ways to help them get that activity going, courtesy of Matthew Journeaux, a physical education teacher at Safa Community School in Dubai.
Video games are good for your kids
Yes, video games! There are many types of games out there that promote activity.
“Video games are not the enemy, in fact there are several games out there on X-Box and the Nintendo Wii that are purely designed to get people active and moving,” says Journeaux. “Nickelodeon Fit or Just Dance are examples of the types of games that are promoting skill, fitness, coordination, rhythm and movement. You can even do family fitness workouts together in front of the TV screen.”
According to research conducted in 2014 and published in the journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, kids who plays sport video games are actually more likely to go and play the real version of the sport, because they can learn the rules and the basic structures before they set foot on the field.
And according to a 2012 study from Deakin University in Australia, young children who play interactive games had better motor skills, such as catching, throwing, kicking and bouncing a ball, than those who did not.
Make it a competition
A little bit of competition can be healthy. One way is for a family to challenge its members to see who can do the most steps in a day or week. Many of the fitness watches – Apple Watch and Fitbit included – have step counters, giving badges of honor when daily, weekly and monthly goals are achieved.
Or they can take the game to a wider playing field.
“Competition does not just have to be within family,” says Journeaux. “The technology allows you to compete against friends and family all over the world as well.”
Whatever the competition, what’s important is setting challenges for children to tackle and overcome.
“Children really benefit when they can monitor and track their progress, so create a chart for them on the fridge recording little things such as how far they can jump, number of steps in a week or number of times they can juggle a ball with their feet,” says Journeaux. “Constant progress is the goal.”
Have a purpose to be active
Maybe you want to compete in the Dubai Spartan race or run the 5-kilometer in the Dubai marathon as a family. Or perhaps your goal is more simple, as in the whole family walking the dog together every night. The important thing is that the family sits down together and makes a plan.
If that doesn’t work, then Journeaux suggests introducing an incentive scheme where each activity earns a reward.
Don’t do it alone – team up
Work with other parents, whether from your children’s school or your circle of friends, working together to organize activities for kids to keep them moving, advises Journeaux.
Getting the kids playing actively together while adults take turns supervising makes the task less of a hassle, creates a positive activity environment and allows adults to socialize at the same time, he says.
Trying new activities
Teach your kids to not be afraid to try something new by, as a family, attempting something no one has done before.
“Having parents as active role models will create a safe environment for children to try and enjoy brand new activities without the fear of embarrassment or judgement,” says Journeaux. “There are so many types of health-related activities in Dubai that you are really spoilt for options. There is no more excuse for the whole family not being active, even in Dubai summers.”
Avoid pushing kids too far
While Journeaux encourages more physical activity within the family setting, he also wants families to be cautious.
“Try not to be too pushy when it comes to forcing your kids to participate in physical activity,” he advises. “Giving kids plenty of variety and exposing them to all types of physical and wellness activities and allowing them to make up their own mind on which ones they enjoy the most, will see the best chance of kids enjoying it.”
Each child is an individual, and it’s important to find out where their interest lies and work with that.
“Otherwise, you might encounter a situation where there is a pushback against fitness and physical activity,” says Journeaux.
Featured photo: Unsplash