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Ask the Expert: How Can I Increase My Child's Active Time Outside of School?

Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a local pediatrician and expert on childhood obesity, provides tips on increasing our kids' play and exercise time outside of school so they get at least an hour of active time each day.


active family playing outsideWith the steady increase in academic and financial pressures, play time and physical education are facing cuts in schools throughout the country. "A lot of schools don’t have playgrounds conducive for active play," says Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., a Long Island-based pediatrician. "Communities need to start rallying together to start talking about this need and letting schools know that this is important."

Here, Dr. Dolgoff offers her expert insights on why play time and exercise are so important for our children and how we as parents can keep them active outside of school hours.

How is play time important to children's development?

Play helps a child develop in every single sphere of life. The more kids move around, the more calories they burn, and that’s important in the midst of the obesity epidemic.

Kids who play more also have more social interactions, which help them cognitively. Plus, when children are more active, they can get rid of that extra energy inside of them, leading them to be able to focus better in school and ultimately do better in school.

Kids who are active also tend to have a better emotional outlook. They tend to be not as depressed or anxious, and part of it is because they’re outside more, interacting with nature.


It’s recommended that kids get an hour of exercise a day, but that’s tough when schools are decreasing physical education. How can parents increase their kids’ exercise time outside of school?

The number one thing that a parent can do is model healthy behaviors, from when kids are very young. If children grow up seeing their parents enjoying exercise, they get the message that it’s important and fun and they want to do it too. My kids see me going for runs on the weekend and they want to come with me, because they look at it as something fun to do. My son and I (he’s 9), we ran a 3K together last month. If he saw me complaining and moaning about it, he wouldn’t have gotten that message that running is fun.

It’s also about planning active family outings from an early age, whether you’re going for hikes in the woods or bike rides in the local parks. One time my family and I went to one of the parks on Long Island and we brought my daughter’s tricycle. She did 3 miles on that tricycle because my son was on his bike, I was jogging, and she wanted to keep up. We need to give kids that opportunity for exercise, to plan those types of family outings and activities and show them we love it.

For parents of older kids, it’s important to schedule active activities into their days. With all of the different after-school piano lessons, religious lessons, etc., we need to make sure there’s time for exercise too. Make it a priority, whether it’s getting them into a sport or a one-on-one program.

Remember that it doesn’t have to be an hour at a time. If a kid gets 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes here, and 20 minutes there, it adds up throughout the day. It can be overwhelming to do 60 minutes at a time, and kids may not want to do the full hour at once. But you get just as many benefits when you split it up throughout the day.


Any specific tips for families living in small apartments with no backyard to play in?

There are so many parks in the city. Take them to the park and let them run around. Also, almost every cable system has different exercise classes on demand, like kickboxing, dancing, or Zumba. You don’t have to put them on a treadmill. Put some music on and have a dance party.

And if you’re in the city, walking up steps is a great thing to teach kids. Even if you live in the penthouse, take the elevator up to a few floors below yours and walk up a few floors from there. Take fewer cabs and subways and do more walking to your destinations.


Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., is a pediatrician, child obesity specialist, official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the author of “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” (Rodale, 2010). Dr. Dolgoff has offices in Manhattan, Queens and throughout Long Island. She lives in Roslyn with her two children, ages 7 and 9.


Also see:

How Can I Make Exercise More Fun for My Non-Athletic Child?

How Can I Set Healthy Limits on My Child's Diet?


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