Children's activity levels have dropped in recent decades through a number of factors, among them are cultural shifts in the way parents and supervisors address issues of child safety and supervision, differences in built and outdoor environments, to an increase in screen time.

The days of neighborhood kids safely playing kick-the-can in bucolic suburbs have given way to supervised meetings and organized activity, increased school hours with less physical activity built into the day and greater use of electronic media.

Parents should be aware of the recommendations for increased physical activity for youth, since youth regularly don't meet suggested daily activity levels. Monitoring and changing these sedentary habits are critical because of the tremendous health threats from childhood obesity and diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children (ages 6 to 17) should get 60 minutes of exercise every day, and that should be an age-appropriate combination of aerobic, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening activity.

Walking home from school, biking to the playground, playing kickball or just plain playing has been supplanted by organized play dates that often include television, cell phone, mobile devices, computers, Wii, social networking and gaming. Even in small increments, the increased total hours children spend parked in a chair rather than exercising can contribute to health problems now and later in life.

Parents face considerable obstacles in ensuring their kids get enough exercise, especially during winter months. Early nightfall means that kids can't play outside as much as they do during the summer, but winter does offer a host of opportunities that can be enjoyed. Keep in mind the one-hour goal, and find ways to sneak in exercise at every opportunity.

One strategy is to seek out indoor playscapes where kids can blow off steam and tire themselves out at night and on the weekends. Playing on safe climbing equipment, bounce-inflatables and slides are the kinds of planned-play opportunities into which parents can channel their child's energy.

Stopping at a mall or BounceU facility on the way home for just 30 minutes of play would be meet half your child's daily activity requirements.

Other indoor options might be found at local community centers, such as the YMCA, churches and other youth-minded organizations. Regular lessons of a sport or skill increase activity levels and have the added reward of achievement. Ballet, gymnastics, karate, wrestling-- these are great indoor sports that your child can learn now and master over a lifetime.

Intrepid parents can also use the winter months to focus on cold-weather sports. While Kentucky does not have an outdoor-sports culture like snowbound states, such as Maine, the state does offer rugged opportunities for hiking and camping in many beautiful, wild places. And when snowfall hits, sledding and ice skating are ever-popular among all age groups, and since ice skating rinks are not dependent upon cold weather, they can offer year-round sport. One last thing to remember is that kids won't melt in the rain. Properly clothed, they might love playing outdoors in weather that keeps you inside.

For more information, please contact the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service.

Source: Deana K. Reed, UK extension specialist for 4-H youth development

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