KIDS AND EXERCISE
Should children get more exercise? It is necessary? With more and more children electing to play video games, watching far too much television and using other viral medium, it is more important than ever for them to have proper nutrition as well as do more exercise to help curb the tide of childhood obesity that is so prevalent today.
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill or lifting weights. But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes, or when playing tag. They need to do more away from school or other outside activities. These days, far too many children in the United States aren’t doing as well on fitness tests as children did in the past. Why is that? They would rather veg in front the TV, play video games or other less active things. This leads to a growing number of children that are showing signs of diabetes, heart disease and other types of health problems all of which can be linked to a lack of exercise.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture emphasizes that fitness matches good nutrition as an important factor for kids’ growth and development. Research has shown that kids who don’t exercise grow into adults with higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. The American Diabetes Association warns that a surprisingly large number of kids now develop Type II diabetes. The disease was once almost unknown in young people.
There are so many benefits of regular exercise. Regular exercise can help reduce a child’s risk for Type II diabetes. Fitness also helps kids to control blood pressure, develop muscle and bone strength, and improve heart function. Girls who exercise may reduce their risk for osteoporosis later in life. In addition, kids who begin to exercise generally see improvements in concentration, memory and classroom behavior.
Parents and guardians may assume that kids naturally get enough exercise. Some parents believe that school gym programs provide kids with enough fitness opportunities. This is such a misconception. When in reality, budget cuts at schools, shifting priorities and time considerations mean that most schools do not provide kids with the minimum recommended amount of daily physical activity. At home, TV and video games have replaced sports and games for many kids. The average high school student watches at least 4 hours of TV every day. Honestly, this is not a good idea.
According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, children and teens need at least 60 minutes of activity every day. The hour can be broken into smaller sections to fit busy schedules. According to the council, less than one-fourth of high school students get the minimum amount of exercise.
Local parks, community centers and YMCAs often offer physical activities for kids. These programs provide a structured, safe environment for kids to exercise. They also allow parents an easy means to ensure that their children spend enough time on physical activities each day. The benefits of exercising when young can include a lifetime commitment to fitness. Let children choose sports or activities they enjoy and will continue. Kids are more likely to exercise when they see adults around them do the same. Good role models make a huge difference.
I feel that there are many benefits for everyone from regular exercise. Kids who are active will: (1) have stronger muscles and bones; (2) have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat; (3) be less likely to become overweight; (4) decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes; (5) possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels; and (6) have a better outlook on life. Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
If you’ve ever watched kids on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of fitness in action when they: (1) run away from the kid who’s “it” (endurance); (2) cross the monkey bars (strength); and (3) bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility).
All parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements. Endurance is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for extended periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Examples of aerobic activities include: (a) basketball; (b) bicycling; (c) ice-skating; (d) inline skating; (e) soccer; (f) swimming; (g) tennis; (h) walking; (i) jogging; and (j) running
Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Although some kids benefit from weightlifting, it should be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who works with them. But most kids don’t need a formal weight-training program to be strong. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Kids also incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids look for opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
The percentage of overweight and obese kids and teens has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Although many factors contribute to this epidemic, children are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they’re sitting around a lot more than they used to.
One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or playing video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends these limits on screen time: (a) kids under age 2 should watch no TV at all; and (2) kids older than 2 should be restricted to just 1-2 hours a day of quality programming (even if that means you or another responsible adult monitor what they are watching).
Parents should make sure that their kids get enough exercise. So, how much is enough? Kids and teens get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. Infants and young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time — no more than 1 hour unless they’re sleeping. And school-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to a healthy lifestyle. Thankfully there many parents/guardians have started on this path. But it is just the beginning. There is still quite a lot that must be done.
Here are some tips for raising fit kids: (1) Help your kids participate in a variety of age-appropriate activities; (2) Establish a regular schedule for physical activity; (3) Incorporate activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator; (4) Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, so you’ll be a positive role model for your family; and (5) Keep it fun, so you can count on your kids to come back for more.
Guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services say that children and adolescents age 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity. Most of the hour should be either moderate or vigorous aerobic activity. In addition, children should participate in muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week.
Many classic activities — such as playing on playground equipment and jumping rope — cover all the bases at once. Organized sports are a great way to stay fit too. But team sports or dance classes aren’t the only options.
Get creative as you search for activities your child enjoys. If your child is artistically inclined, take a nature hike to collect leaves and rocks for use in a collage. If your child likes to climb, head for the nearest jungle gym. If your child likes to read, walk or bike to a local library for a book. Or simply turn on your child’s favorite music and dance in the living room.
Exercise with your child to better your own health while helping modeling for and stimulating your child to develop good exercise habits. Remember, incorporating physical activity into your child’s daily routine sets the foundation for a lifetime of fitness and good health.