Getting Our Children Moving |

Getting Our Children Moving

It is common knowledge that a sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s chances of obesity and health problems down the road. 

Human beings are created to move; even a huge part of our worship as Muslims includes movement. Our daily prayer consists of movements and stretches that are beneficial for our bodies. 

Inactivity does not happen overnight. Generally speaking, people are exercising less now than 500, 50, or even 15 years ago. Unfortunately, inactivity in childhood can solidify into inactivity in adulthood, but if we encourage our children to be active now, that may help them continue to do so in the future. We can start to reverse this trend by creating opportunities to get our children moving. Did you know that just 60 minutes of movement a day is all our children need to build better habits?

Importance of Movement for Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children, ages six to seventeen should be physically active for 60 minutes or more a day. This exercise should consist of aerobic activity like walking, running, jump roping or anything that increases the heart rate; muscle-strengthening like climbing, lifting, or doing push-ups; and bone-strengthening like jumping. Younger children are encouraged to be active throughout the day with age-appropriate activities. It is important to note that the 60 minutes or more do not have to be consecutive – kids can play or move sporadically throughout the day to still get their daily dose of exercise. For school-age children, opportunities like recess, physical education, sports clubs, and free periods are especially important to make up for long periods of sitting or inactivity.     

Actions become habits, habits become routines, routines become lifestyles, and lifestyles last a lifetime. Making a habit of physical exercise early in life can have a long-lasting impact on children. Most healthy and well-nourished youngsters already have the energy they need. They only require a safe environment to expend those reserves. Adult caregivers (including parents, grandparents, and teachers) can help guide children to take part in activities that include movement. 

Movement Activities

Here are ten ways to get kids moving:

1. Enroll them in team sports.

Team sports are popular among many Muslim parents and the popularity of some over others varies depending on their background. Hence, families often turn to team sports to encourage their children to exercise. With lots of opportunities to compete and socialize with other families, it seems like an obvious choice. When we think of team sports, the first ones that come to mind are soccer, football, basketball, or baseball, but there are many others. Depending on where you live, the season, and the weather, you may be able to enroll your child in sports like hockey, volleyball, rugby, lacrosse, or softball. Have them try as many as possible, so they can choose a favorite.

2. Try other sports.

Team sports are fun, but they are not for everyone. There are other kinds like endurance sports that include cycling, swimming, skiing, and skating; club-and-ball sports like golf and mini golf; acrobatic sports like gymnastics, dancing, and parkour; board sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, and scootering; catching games such as frisbee and dodgeball; and others like climbing, hiking, and archery.

For children who are looking for more one-on-one or small group activities, find a sports club near you or get them the equipment they need to play with their family or friends. Racket sports consist of tennis, racquetball, squash, badminton, and paddle tennis. Some are more fast-paced than others, but they are equally enjoyable.

Again, have your child decide where their interest lies by trying out as many as they want. There are so many sports options out there that even I was surprised just conducting research for this article. Do a quick search yourself and you will see that the possibilities are truly endless. Even if your child tried a different sport every day for a year, there would still be options left for them to explore.

3. Have them take up martial arts or wrestling.

I purposefully did not include combat sports in point 2. above because I felt it needed a reference of its own. Combat or contact sports including martial arts and wrestling were something both the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his companions, may Allah be pleased with them, practiced. Learning how to fight was just as important during their time as learning how to ride a horse or participate in trade. And although thankfully we may not face the same threats like they did on a daily basis, self-defense is a life skill that everyone, young or old, can and should benefit from.

The bonus is that it is also a very effective form of exercise. Combat sports are classified into categories like striking, grappling, weapons, and mixed martial arts. There are many different styles within each category – including things like Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Capoeira, Sambo, and Krav Maga – each originating from different countries. If you choose to have your child try martial arts, know that each style has its nuances and, while one may not work out for them, they may find another that suits them well. But they will never know if they do not try!

4. Chores are exercise, too!

Sports are great and all movement exercise is not always about athletics. Tidying up the house is also a great workout. Just like we want our children to develop healthy exercise habits, we also want them to be responsible for keeping a clean house. Your child’s first instinct may be to whine and resist doing chores, but you can offer an incentive. Perhaps they would like to spend some time playing a video game or watching a favorite show. Use it to your advantage and negotiate with them to spend some time cleaning first. Have them sweep and mop the floors or vacuum the house. They could also mow the lawn, wipe countertops, wash the windows, organize the garage, put away dishes, or fold clothes. All of these activities require movement and take time. With a few chores, they could easily get their 60 minutes of exercise and make Mom and Dad very happy!

5. Take it outside.

Sunny day? Take your kids outside to play in the yard or a park. There are many activities they could do that are fun, and do not feel like strenuous exercise, yet have the very same benefits. If you choose a playground, let the kiddos run around, climb, jump, and swing for at least an hour as a sure way to get the exercise they need. If you prefer to stay home, your yard is just as effective. You can let your child run around freely and explore plants, bugs, trees, and anything else they spot outside their house. Play tag, red light/green light, or hide and seek. Fly a kite or toss a ball around. Have them show you how they roll or do cartwheels or blow some bubbles and let them chase them until they pop. If it is hot outside, then turn on the sprinklers for the kids to enjoy. There are lots of possibilities and, with the added benefit of getting some vitamin D, it is a win-win for everyone.

6. Go for a walk.

Walking is the simplest and most effective way that people can get the exercise they need on a daily basis. All of us should ideally strive to take a brisk walk every day for at least 30-60  minutes. Choose a picturesque path or stay in your neighborhood. To make a nice stroll more enjoyable, have your children bring a push or pull toy along. Let them stop if they want to explore but try to stay moving until you reach your goal.

7. Have a daily dance party.

Kids love to dance and, although many Muslim families stay away from music, there are Islamic alternatives like nasheeds that can help us have fun while staying on the move. Make a lesson out of it and teach your child(ren) how to perform traditional dances from your home country. If you cannot dance, then try searching some instructional videos on YouTube and try to follow along with your children. Learning together means more quality time for you all.

8. Get a pet.

Adding a new member to your family in the form of a pet can be an incentive to get your children interested in moving and away from harmful and time-consuming devices. Pets are a huge responsibility and families should weigh the pros and cons before adopting an animal. If you do decide that your child is ready for a pet, then give them a list of responsibilities like cleaning, bathing, taking care of their living space, and playing with them. An additional benefit to owning a pet is teaching children about financial literacy. Pets can provide emotional support and companionship for children, and although they will keep them moving, kids will not even notice because they will be too preoccupied with their new friend.

9. Take breaks in between screen time.

Have your child take activity breaks while watching TV or using a computer. It is easy for minutes to accumulate into hours during screentime. Ideally, your child should not be spending so much time in front of a screen, but at the very least, try to get them to stand up and move around every 30 minutes or so. They can walk around, stretch, and do squats, lunges, sit-ups, jumping jacks, or push-ups. Encourage older children to play with younger siblings or offer them a ride on their back. Even pacing or walking around the enclosed space of the house is better than just sitting.

10. Practice what you preach and become their workout buddy!

Make sure to also get yourself moving. Nothing motivates a child more than seeing their parents active and thriving. Show them that you also value your health. Take daily walks, enroll in an exercise class, try a new sport, add stretching to your routine, or go hiking. Don’t forget to bring your child along. Physical activity is more enjoyable when you have someone to do it with. You are their role model, so get rolling! 

Community Initiatives

Because obesity rates are increasing and we face tremendous health challenges, it is our responsibility as a community to also provide the means for our next generation to get the exercise they need to stay fit. Our Islamic centers, schools, and masajid can offer safe, accessible, and appealing spaces for youth to engage in a variety of activities to improve and maintain their physical health. For example, walking and biking trails around the grounds or parking lot, basketball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields, sandpits, and playgrounds are ways to attract and promote exercise among the youth. 

Opening our centers and schools for community recreation creates opportunities for our children to strengthen their faith, solidify their identity as Muslims, and stay healthy. It also provides a reliable alternative for walking, sports, and other activities which some community members may feel unsafe doing elsewhere. 

Doing our part as parents includes providing the opportunities, equipment, and encouragement to our children. Too often we blame the individual for their lack of physical activities, but we fail to acknowledge the lack of opportunities available. We must create the means for them to get the exercise they need without it becoming another task or chore they must check off their to-do list. With some proper planning and motivation, we can get them moving and on their way to a lifetime of great health with the help of Allah. 

Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish ( She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.

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