With child obesity still an epidemic in the U.S. and reams of research showing both the immediate and long-term benefits of youth exercise, it’s the duty of parents today to make movement and activity a part of kids’ lifestyles, says Chicago physical therapist Dr. Marc Gregory Guillen.

And the first step in teaching kids to be active, Dr. Guillen adds, is to be a good role model.

“Kids typically imitate their parents when it comes to being active,” said Dr. Guillen, owner of Free Body Physical Therapy & Wellness in Wicker Park / East Humboldt Park. “If you’re an active person who spends time outdoors, plays with your kids regularly, goes for walks or hikes, your kids are more likely to incorporate these activities into their lifestyle as an adult.”

And in a country where more than one in six kids between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, and just one in three are physically active each day, making movement and exercise a daily part of life is a critical habit to help kids form at a young age. Why?

“Active kids are more likely avoid health issues during childhood as well as adulthood,” Dr. Guillen said. “Studies have shown that regular physical activity reduces risk of developing obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer.

Strong evidence also exists tying activity with greater academic and social achievement in children. It also helps ward off anxiety and depression at a young age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 should participate in one hour of physical activity each day … at a minimum.

“One hour of physical activity seems reasonable when the average American kid spends 7 hours a day in front of a TV or computer,” Dr. Guillen said.

To help your child develop a love of movement and physical activity, Dr. Guillen offers these tips:

Play with Your Kids: Be a leader when it comes to activities with your kids by, first and foremost, making it fun! Starting at a young age, take them outdoors for a game of tag, building forts, playing catch, or to raking up a pile of leaves for jumping. Keep in mind that if you have fun being active, they’ll no doubt imitate the positive vibes.

Go On Adventures: Simple walks and bike rides are fun, but turning them into adventures can give the activities some staying power. Turn the walk into a scavenger hunt, go geocaching instead of just hiking or cycling, or turn a swim in the lake into a rock-collecting and/or skipping competition.

Provide Options & Choice: From toys and games to different parks, facilities and even clubs/leagues, when you give children variety, they’ll be more eager to actively participate in their activities of choice.

Be the Support System: As a parent, be active in helping your child sort through options, connect with others with similar interests (i.e., friends and teammates), and offering the support they need to participate and be successful. Having mom and/or dad on the journey can go far in motivating a kid to stick with and enjoy new activities.