Q: We’re having a hard time getting our 12-year-old with diabetes to get up and move around. He hates conventional team sports. What can we do?

A: For all children, including those with type 1 diabetes, regular physical activity has many health benefits. So you’re very right to be concerned about your son’s inactivity! But where do you start when it comes to getting a reluctant kid to move around more?

When I work with families, I always remind parents that they are their child’s best role model when it comes to physical fitness. If your son sees you engaged in some fun activity, he will likely take part. To get the ball rolling, begin with what I call “the five-minute rule.” Whether you go for a walk around the block, dance around the house, or jump rope, tell your son he needs to be active with you for five minutes; if he wants to stop after that, it’s okay. Do this several times a week and don’t be surprised if your son is soon ready and willing to stick around for longer workouts (the same goes for you if you’re a reluctant exerciser).

If time in front of the tube is what’s keeping your child in one place, limit screen time by turning off TVs, computers, and other devices for a specified period every day, or restricting the total amount of time kids can spend in front of them. Not having electronic distractions humming in the background is often enough to get most kids involved in more active forms of play. When you do allow screen time, insist that your child regularly get up and move around; progress toward having him walk or even dance during these breaks. Some parents make TV and video games part of family fitness by investing in interactive video games that require physical activity.

There are plenty of other tricks you can use to get your child up and on the go. Reward good grades and other accomplishments with an activity like family bowling or roller skating, rather than going out to dinner. When birthdays and the holiday season come around, give your kids toys that promote physical activity (like skates or a bike) instead of toys that promote sitting and inactivity. Assigning your child at least one active chore around the house or yard daily, such as sweeping, vacuuming, or raking leaves, not only teaches responsibility, but is another great way to work in a little exercise.

As you’re incorporating physical activity into your routine, work with your diabetes care team to determine how to monitor the effects of exercise on your child’s blood glucose and to adjust insulin or food intake if needed. If your son normally played video games after eating and suddenly starts playing in a post-dinner soccer match with the neighborhood kids, it’s important that he check his blood sugar. Your diabetes healthcare team can help you work out an individualized plan.

Sheri Colberg–Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., professor of Exercise Science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.


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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.