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How to use tech to help your kids stay fit

POSTED: October 12, 2017 9:01 a.m.
Amy Iverson/

Kids are going to be on screens. So why not use those screens to help children get the exercise they so desperately need. There are apps, gadgets and toys out there that still let kids use a screen, but also steer them toward fitness.

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Screens are everywhere and seem to always be in front of our faces. (We have no control over this right?) The Centers for Disease Control report that kids ages 8-10 spend about six hours each day in front of a screen, and most of that is watching television. I hate to break it to you, but screens aren’t going anywhere. It’s our job as parents and as responsible digital citizens to figure out how to make that screen time educational and beneficial, instead of just a mind-wasting experience.

With kids having six hours of screen time every day, it may seem impossible for them to fit in the 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity the CDC recommend. Less than half of kids ages 6-11 are meeting that recommendation right now. If only there were a way to use that screen time to chalk up the minutes of physical activity our bodies so desperately need. Well read on, because there are actually many ways to get exercise and stay fit by using devices. Apps, gadgets and good old-fashioned toys can help kids get on the fitness path while still using their beloved screens.

The NFL Play 60 app is the result of a partnership between the National Football League and the American Heart Association. This free iOS and Android app is perfect for the sports-loving tween in your life. It’s football-themed (natch) and kids have to run, jump over obstacles, and dart around in order to get their on-screen character to do the same. Kids do this with the device in hand, so you may want to tether it to their body somehow, but sports fans will love creating their custom NFL avatar. Players can earn coins in the game to later trade in for NFL swag, and there’s a whole curriculum developed for teachers to implement in their classrooms.

Super Stretch is an app that uses yoga to help children improve their concentration, increase their flexibility and coordination, and reduce stress. This creative, interactive app is free and only available for iOS. Super Stretch is a cartoon guide who introduces kids to his friends. Hani, for instance, is a silly monkey that likes to reach for the sky and then reach over to tickle his toes. Super Stretch informs users that this pose helps fresh air to flow to your brain when you’re feeling tired. The motto here is, “Make NAMASTE a part of your day!”

Garmin vivofit jr. 2 is a fitness band for kids ages 4-7 that encourages movement and good sleep. Kids will love the fun designs since Garmin teamed up with Disney for bands featuring Minnie Mouse, Captain America, and BB-8. Parents will love that they can assign tasks like finishing homework or brushing teeth, and the vivofit jr. 2 will alert the kids, nudging them when it’s time to get it done. When children reach the daily 60-minute activity goal, the band unlocks fun mobile adventures. Wearers can even have friendly competitions with nearby kids who may be also using the $99.99 waterproof Garmin.

A less expensive option is the $59.99 VTech Smartwatch DX2. Kids ages four and up will have a ball with the cameras and the Silly Yourself app with its fun selfie filters. It gets kids active with games like Monster Catcher. Children have to run around, while the watch uses the cameras and augmented reality so that they can virtually snag the weird creatures. There are also active play challenges that use the watch’s motion sensor.

And finally if parents are looking for an actual toy that encourages exercise while still utilizing tech, Fisher-Price is stepping up its game. The Think & Learn Smart Cycle just made Amazon’s list of the top 25 toys for the 2017 holiday season. It’s a $150 stationary bike for kids ages 3-6 with a mount for a tablet on the front (you can also play using a television). The more little ones pedal, the more games they can access — and the faster they pedal, the faster the action. Children pedal, steer, and use a joystick to do things like grab letters in Tech City to spell words, or find missing words.

So see? All screen time doesn’t have to be sitting on the couch munching potato chips. Use technology to trick your kids into getting their exercise, and they’ll have fun while doing it.
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