Sixty minutes a day. That’s the minimum amount of physical activity recommended for children, ages 6 to 17, by the Centers for Disease Control. Some kids meet that goal effortlessly. They can’t wait to walk the dog, belong to a team that practices every afternoon or nag their parents to go on long hikes and bike rides.
Other kids need a little encouragement to step away from their electronic devices so they can get active. Thankfully, some of that encouragement now comes from the devices themselves. Some very innovative programmers have designed gadgets and apps that promise to make family fitness fun. Which one will be motivating in your household? Look for an app that intersects with things your family cares about. Here are some suggestions.
Charity Miles has arranged for up to a million dollars to be donated to good causes—if people use their app to exercise. Simply download the program, choose a charity, tuck your phone in your pocket and get going. The corporate sponsors kick in a dime for every mile of biking and a quarter for every mile of running. If you exercise together, every phone in the family can donate to a different cause. (Free from the App Store and Google Play.)
Zombies, Run! Isn’t for little kids, but teens who want to stay fit may find this immersive app very motivating. The user maps the course they plan to run, and then the program devises a story about finding supplies for a community besieged by the undead. Periodically, the app announces that zombies are in the vicinity and their noisy breathing makes most runners pick up the pace. The app includes 33 missions and young people can also incorporate their favorite music. ($3.99 at the App Store and GooglePlay)
Zamzee is a tiny accelerometer that records motion. When the device, which looks like a flash drive, is clipped onto shoes or slipped into a pocket, your child earns points for any physical activity–sweeping the floor, climbing stairs, jumping rope, dancing, etc. Plug Zamzee into a USB computer port and kids can see graphic evidence of how active they’ve been. They also earn points that can be donated to charity or used to purchase virtual or real rewards including apps and games. ($29.95 from Zamzee.com)
Eat-And-Move-O-Matic is a very simple app that answers one question: How many minutes of Activity X will burn the calories in Food Y. This colorful app is easy enough for elementary school kids to understand and use. (Free from the App Store)
The Walk is a better choice for teens (and adults) who don’t care to jog. The game, designed in the UK, starts with the premise that a bomb has exploded in the London underground. The only way to save the world is to carry a package from one end of the British Isles to the other, encountering misadventures along the way. The game is intended to cover three months of walking, long enough for most people to get a good habit established. ($2.99 at the App Store and Google Play)
NFL Play 60 encourages children to get their 60 minutes of activity by running, turning and jumping over virtual obstacles. Kids control the character in the game by holding a phone or table that detects their movements. As they progress, they collect hearts that make the character invincible from the American Heart Association and coins that buy virtual gear from the NFL. Both organizations cooperated to create the game which gives young football fans a fix without risking a concussion. (Free from the App Store and Google Play)
Ballstrike and Buglylon turn I-pads and Windows 8 tablets into something that resembles a Kinect at a fraction of the price. Just set the tablet upright on a flat surface, step back and use your body to pop balls (or smash bugs). The app which has six levels tracks calories burned and allows your child to share photos of their best moves. (Free from the App Store and Windows)
IronKids was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to minimize the risk of injuries in young athletes. The 45 minute workout emphasizes the correct way to do exercises that build strength, balance and endurance, so it’s ideal for teens and pre-teens who want to be in good shape for team tryouts. ($3.99 from the App Store)
Fitocracy makes it very easy to keep track of a fitness routine, especially if it includes repetitive exercises such as weightlifting. Users set goals and earn points by achieving them. More important, Fitocracy taps into the power of social media, making it easy to find other people who enjoy the same kind of workout. Teens can learn from those who are more experienced, exchange encouraging words and even challenge others to friendly competition. (Basic level free from the App store and Google Play )