Modern children move ‘like 80-year-olds’: here’s how to make sure yours are healthy

Kim Easton Smith

Icelandic Olympic gymnast Magnus Sheving isn’t content with keeping himself and his family healthy.

The creator of children’s TV show LazyTown and favourite character Sportacus has worked with major world leaders including Michelle Obama and our own David Cameron to encourage us grownups to help our kids be fit, active and healthy.

We caught up with him to pick his brains on how we can help beat the obesity crisis.

Start good habits early

"The golden years for getting kids healthy are from birth to seven when kids look up to their parents. It’s the time when they do everything right - they sleep when they want to go to sleep, they eat when they want to eat – and they make the right choices automatically.

"I’ve never seen a kid who doesn’t know how to move in this age group and it’s our job as grownups, to let them stay that way.

"The bad news is basically if you haven’t done it from zero to seven you are almost too late.  If you haven’t done it by 12 years old then you are way too late, it’s not going to change.

"So what I think, it’s really important to start extremely early. I think there is only one solution - to turn things into a game to make it fun and interesting.

"That way, they’re inspired to be healthy without thinking about it.

There was a survey that said that 17-year-old kids today, they move the same amount of movement as an 80-year person, so it’s shocking.

"They also say that this catastrophic obesity is getting to be a huge problem, kids are living sicker and dying younger and this is the first time in history that life expectancy of our children is going to be less than our own.

" But it’s not the fault of the kids, they shouldn’t be worried about obesity, they shouldn’t be worried about how they look, they shouldn’t even have to think about it."

Every day action

"I look for things we can do where I don’t have to take them anywhere – easy activities at home using everyday things such as clothing.

For example, when you dress your child, say ‘let’s have a different movement for different clothes you’re wearing’.

"So if I pick my kid up from kindergarten school and he’s wearing red socks, I have to do twenty kangaroo jumps and if I am wearing a red hat he has to stand on one leg.  It’s really funny when you get to the end of the day and you have to do the activity.

Don’t forget about using music and dance, it can be really energising and inspiring.

"Also have fruit and vegetables around the house, not on a table somewhere that kids can’t see it – make them the go-to for snacks.

"Make sure you’re going outside and being active and take them with you. When they’re young they’re far more likely to mimic what you’re doing and it can become habit. 

Listen to your children

"It’s a really important thing to give children self-esteem.

"Listen to what they are saying because they could tell you things that they think are boring or suggest things you hadn’t thought of that will help you motivate them. "LazyTown always tries to make what can be a boring message, fun and inspirational.

"In Iceland, the health minister of Iceland believes the main reason why obesity reduced was because of it. And you can do it to. You just have to remember to keep activity the focus of day to day life and enjoy it as a whole family."

[Related: Should children be banned from watching TV?]
[Related: Tips for preventing childhood obesity]