Want to Motivate Your Child to Exercise? There’s an App for That

Children exercising.

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Key Takeaways

  • Many children are not getting enough physical activity, which could lead to long-term health problems.
  • Incentivizing children to be more active through rewards-based apps encourages them to get more exercise.
  • Weight is an important metric of progress in managing obesity in children, but it should not be the primary focus of any lifestyle modification program.

The pandemic made it difficult for kids to get outside and play. Many sports activities were forced to shut down to keep kids safe, which led to less exercise overall. Experts are now looking for creative solutions to this problem.

Gal Dubnov-Raz, MD, a pediatrician and the director of sports and exercise medicine at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, is leading a team of clinicians and researchers who are seeking to find new ways to encourage physical activity in children who are overweight or obese.

“When COVID lockdowns emerged, we rapidly realized that we needed to increase our efforts to use telemedicine,” Dubnov-Raz tells Verywell.

Dubnov-Raz and his team are collaborating with the creators of the Rumble Wellness app, a health and wellness platform for adults. The app was modified to be more child-friendly—for example, parental controls were added, and functions such as weight tracking were disabled (to avoid over preoccupation with weight).

Young participants receive a compatible fitness watch to monitor their activity levels. They earn “health coins” for getting in their exercises and viewing age-appropriate health and wellness content within the app. They can also join groups with their friends, and earn rewards for reaching their set activity goals.

“This is also an opportunity for the children to meet new friends in a similar situation as them and create a small community," Alon Silberberg, CEO of Yuvital, the company that developed the Rumble app, tells Verywell via email. "The group dynamic increases success rates and encourages healthy, friendly competition."

What This Means For You

While the Rumble Wellness app isn't currently available in the U.S., it might be soon. You can try taking a similar approach to encourage your child to get moving by offering them rewards and engaging them in fun activities.

How Does the App Work?

Users can redeem health coins earned within the app to get health-based rewards, such as resistance bands or weights. However, it is also possible to purchase prizes such as a pencil box for school or a Bluetooth speaker.

Children meet with a member of the team—either a physician, dietician, exercise physiologist or psychologist—about once weekly over the course of six months. The team monitors their physical activity, dietary patterns, and subjective measurements of mental health over time.

“The children's actions ultimately and subtly become their routine, and they are able to adapt a healthier and more active lifestyle,” Silberberg says. “The technology allows Sheba Medical Center to monitor the children's physical activity and then use their personal data to customize their professional care sessions and guidelines accordingly.”

There are currently 50 kids enrolled in the program. Of the 33 who completed the three-month checkpoint, 73% experienced a decrease in their BMI and 70% saw a decrease in body fat percentage.

Dubnov-Raz emphasizes that his team only records weight every three months in the children.  While the primary endpoint is BMI reduction, they consider it only as a marker of lifestyle improvements—and not the actual goal.

They want the emphasis of their program to be on other measures of well-being, including more exercise, healthy eating, mental wellness, and self-confidence. For example, 96% of children currently enrolled in the program reported feeling an improvement in their mental health.

“The focus of our treatment is not on weight," he says. "It’s about getting children to eat healthier, be more physically active, and feel better during their childhood. We weigh them every three months because it’s a clinical outcome, but we repeatedly emphasize that it’s not about the weight. We want to know that they are eating healthier and feeling better.”

The Rumble Wellness or other Yuvital apps are not available in the United States yet, but Silberberg says they expect to start working with U.S. hospitals, health insurance companies, and health organizations very soon.

Overall, encouraging healthy lifestyle patterns in childhood leads to better health in adulthood, Silberberg adds.

“Obesity is one of the leading causes of disease in the modern world, and it is bound to cause significant damage to children especially," Silberberg says. "Children, however, have the advantage of being able to adapt quicker and more easily than adults. A project such as this partnership with Sheba can bring a significant behavioral change that will affect the children throughout their whole life. In addition to obesity prevention, physical activity positively affects children's growth, development, and even their success in school.”

By Cyra-Lea Drummond, BSN, RN
 Cyra-Lea, BSN, RN, is a writer and nurse specializing in heart health and cardiac care.