cence. The development of better tools for measuring physical activity will help to eliminate some of the inconsistencies found in the data and is an important research need. It is also important to learn more about the factors during childhood and adolescence that foster lifelong habits of daily physical activity.

Promoting Physical Activity

Parents should promote physical activity by supporting and encouraging children and youth to be active and play outdoors and participate in opportunities for physical activity. This may increase the time that parents spend outdoors interacting with their children or ensuring their safety or going with their children to the park, playground, gymnasium, or other appropriate location for physical activity. The ancillary benefits of physical activity and outdoor play and interaction are numerous. For children, youth, and parents, the time spent interacting outdoors increases opportunities for social contact, nurturing, bonding, and maturational guidance. In some residential areas, where safety is such a concern that parents cannot let their children play outside the home, there is a particular need for the community to develop and foster opportunities for outside play—including parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities (see Chapter 6).

There are numerous ways in which parents can help to increase their child’s or adolescent’s physical activity levels by supporting and engaging in a range of recreational or utilitarian (e.g., walking to the grocery store) activities that may promote lifelong habits of regular physical activity (Shape Up America, 2004). Examples include:

  • Walking or bicycling (with proper safety measures including helmets) to run errands or as a regular means of transport

  • Encouraging and monitoring outdoor play

  • Assessing the community for opportunities for physical activity and supporting participation by the child and family (e.g., parks, baseball fields, soccer fields, lakes, pools, gyms, community and youth programs, recreational leagues, and camps)

  • Engaging in family outings and vacations that are centered around physical activity

  • Giving gifts (e.g., jump ropes, balls, sports equipment) that encourage activity.

Not every parent has the skills to coach a child in a particular physical activity, but parents can still function as “cheerleaders” for their child and adolescent. This type of emotional support is not only meaningful and rewarding to the child but also may encourage still more physical activity.

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