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"Motivating Children to Exercise "

Article written by Laura Plunkett
June 2008

Did you know that the National Institute of Health recommends children with diabetes exercise a full hour each day? When my son Danny was diagnosed at age seven, I considered us an active family, but we didn’t pay special attention to physical activity.

Several lazy weekends of extremely high blood sugars made us realize we had to get Danny moving. Six years later, we are a stronger, healthier and happier family than we were then. These are the steps we took that made a difference:

1. Make the decision and follow through. Initially, we made the mistake of asking “Do you kids want to go for a walk?“ and “How about if you turn off the television and ride bikes with me?“ After several of these half-hearted attempts, we realized that we had to appear absolutely committed. Announcing that it is time to go for a bike ride or throw a ball, then heading directly out the door, avoids many arguments.

2. Don't blame the diabetes. This isn't just about good blood sugar control, even though that is one of the major benefits. Exercise leads to better health, stronger muscles, happier moods and increased energy. Make sure your kids understand that being active is a choice you are making to improve the health of the whole family.

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3. Fun and games are the secret. Some of our favorite memories are flashlight walks after dinner, running outside during a rainstorm, taking turns with the kids playing follow the leader and pick up basketball in the street with our neighbors. Pick sports you enjoy and make them fun for yourself as well as your kids. As kids get older, it helps to include their friends and make the goals more challenging. As a family, it“s exciting to train for a diabetes-sponsored walk or bike ride.

4. Notice blood sugar trends. Long car rides and inactive weekend mornings sent Danny“s blood sugars soaring. We learned to break up these times with a quick game of tag, soccer or Frisbee even if it meant pulling in to a rest stop for 20 minutes of catch or putting a video on pause. It also helps to plan something active after birthday parties and other dessert events.

5. Limit media. Television and computer games are hard to resist. Kids need their parents“ help in turning them off. If you set strict limits, being outside is more appealing and there is more time for everything else.

6. Vary the choices. Sometimes new gear or equipment such as a new soccer ball or a football with aerodynamic fins can provide the motivation to try something new. Holidays and birthdays are great occasions to splurge on sports equipment. Racing bikes, a volleyball net, a soccer goal, a pitch back, or tennis racquets expand the repertoire of sports the family can enjoy.

7. Enjoy the results. Being able to run farther, throw harder and bike longer distances are strong motivators. Strength and stamina lead to higher self-esteem. All the early effort will help your children with their lifelong accomplishments.

Laura Plunkett is a columnist for Diabetes Health & and an expert on She speaks around the country on "The Challenges of Childhood Diabetes: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children and "Raising Wholesome Children in a Fast-Food World." The Plunkett family has been featured on television and radio as advocates of improving nutrition, increasing exercise and working as a team. Laura and her mother are co-authors of the book, “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child.” Laura can be reached at: