As the holiday season draws near, the hunt is on for parents to find the perfect Christmas present for their child. While a multitude of toys and games are available, Anne Mejia Downs , assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Indianapolis, urges parents to look specifically for toys and games that encourage physical activity.
"With obesity on the rise across the country, toys that get kids moving are some of the best gifts you can give," Downs says. "Regular exercise can improve concentration, decrease stress and anxiety, prevent and treat depression, and even help kids sleep better."
In addition to the health benefits, many of the toys and games Downs recommends have an additional advantage - they can be played indoors. "Kids can play them after school if they're home alone and can't leave the house, and they're also great for bad weather days," she says.
Here is Downs' list of toys and games that make great presents and encourage physical activity, along with some of the associated physical benefits:
• Cranium Hullabaloo - This game prompts kids to jump, dance and run around and encourages following directions, color and shape recognition and coordination.
• Twister Moves - Unlike original Twister, this game features individual mats for each player and CDs that call out the directions. The game emphasizes balance, coordination, flexibility, timing, reaction time and motor control.
• Dance Dance Revolution - Based on a popular arcade game, Dance Dance Revolution is available for most video game consoles, home computers and as a stand alone that plugs directly into the TV. The game prompts players to follow directions as they move their feet to popular songs. It provides cardio/aerobic exercise and works on coordination, balance, rhythm, reaction time and motor control. "This is a terrific game that people of all ages can play. It's a great cardio workout and it's very entertaining," Downs says. "Most students say it's so much fun, they don't feel like they're doing work."
In addition to these specific games, Downs lists a number of "classic" toys and games that also promote activity, such as hoola hoops, jump ropes, Hoppity Hops, pogo sticks, pogo balls, Skip It, hop scotch, four square and laser tag (home version). These toys and games help kids get physically active while working on coordination, balance, timing, rhythm and endurance.
Other items also can encourage activity, such as a pedometer - a stocking stuffer that is great for both kids and adults, Downs says. "You can first use it to see how many steps you take in an average day (which is usually less than people think) and then it can help you to increase the number of steps per day," she explains. Other activity-inducing presents are a good pair of athletic shoes or a gift certificate to a sporting goods store.
Downs says that any number of things can spark physical activity, and parents should consider that when buying gifts. "Parents can go through the store with that in mind and find toys and games that will generate physical activity," she says. "Parents have a big influence on whether or not their kids are active. If parents make it more of a priority and do things as a family, kids are more likely to be active as they grow up."