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Kids and Fitness
By Jyl Steinback

Breaking through the boob tube generation with a burst of exercising energy has never been more difficult and challenging, yet fostering a positive attitude toward healthy living from an early age can promote healthy habits for a lifetime! Remember when hopscotch, tag, jump rope, and ring-around-the-rosie were the play yard favorites - long before Pac-man, Mario, and Pokémon were mans' best friends and little earthly bodies barely moved from the video screens. Physical education programs in schools have been cut back, unsafe neighborhoods have limited outdoor play, and the trend toward supersize portions has boosted calorie and fat intake to unbalanced standards.

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions; the number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last two to three decades. Currently one child in five is overweight, and, while there are numerous causes for this increase in obesity, kids who watch the most hours of television have the highest incidence of obesity. We've got to get back to the basics to bring those bodies back to healthy living before we create another generation of overweight children and adolescents! BALANCE, VARIETY, and MODERATION hold the key to healthy living whether the focus is food or fitness.

How much physical activity do children need? Children and adolescents aged 5-18 should aim for at least one hour of moderate intensity activity each day; this can be performed all at once or spread throughout the day in shorter sessions, if desired.

What kind of physical activity is best? Whatever your child will do regularly! Help him/her find activities that are fun and rewarding! Depending on age, a variety of activities should be included to prevent boredom while providing challenges. These can include anything from organized sports, games and play, or daily activities (walking to school).

Fitness for children should always be FUN! Developing a positive attitude toward physical activity from an early age eliminates any need to force FITNESS! Children will do it because they LOVE it! You can entice the most sedentary kids to get physical - make the most of the opportunities you and your family have to be active!

*Make exercise fun! A positive image toward exercise needs to be introduced and encouraged from an early age.

*DON'T select activities that are too difficult for kids to master - they will feel like failures and won't want to keep doing the activity. While rollerblading, ice skating, or karate may be great for some kids, it could be far too complex and frustrating for others.

* DO listen to your kids! Ease up if they are tired, injured or bored. They must enjoy the activity to make it a habit! Children develop skills at different ages - don't compare children and don't push them beyond their physical abilities.

*DO select activities the kids will enjoy - select activities they will SUCCEED at! Start simple and slow - take a hike through the park or a walk around the neighborhood. Better yet…ask your child what he/she would like to do!

*DO focus on every success and turn every "failed" situation into a growing experience. Even if your child comes in last place at the swim meet, stress the accomplishments: improved strokes, faster time, or stronger endurance.

*DO be sensitive to your child's needs. Forcing children to participate in activities that are too difficult or embarrassing will only encourage negativity. Activities need to be fun, motivating, and stimulating. Children need to succeed and have lots of variety and challenges.

*DO make sure kids' activities are right for their age, size, and physical development. Let children explore and discover their "exercise niche." Some children enjoy team sports whereas others enjoy the challenge of individual sports (tennis, swimming, golf).

*DON'T focus on winning - keep team spirit healthy. Focus on the positive aspects of living healthy and avoid pushing too hard.

*Make exercise a FUN family affair! BEWARE…Your attitude is contagious - if you (as a parent) approach exercise as a chore rather than a fun-filled activity, you can hardly expect any more enthusiasm from your child. Parents who are physically active have a six times greater chance of developing lifelong fitness habits in their children.

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Reward effort based on individual progress - DON'T set up family competitions! Display a family chart and track each person's exercise progress. Determine weekly or monthly rewards ahead of time and display those along with the progress chart - NEVER use food for reward! Some nonfood reward ideas include: movie tickets, time spent with a family member, manicure or pedicure (for girls), book, visit to zoo

*Be creative - using the "tools" in your own home, develop your own circuit-training program. Establish workout stations using stairs, canned or bottled goods, jump ropes, chairs, balls, and walls. For example: Climb stairs for 2 minutes, do bicep curls with soup cans, jump rope for 45 seconds, etc.

*Pump up the volume and dance, dance, dance! Put on your favorite tunes and dance to the music.

*Invite friends and family over for a barbecue or picnic and play some tag, touch football, or soccer.

*Schedule family walks after dinner instead of watching television.

*Plan family outings and vacations around physical activities the family enjoys.

*Select fitness-oriented gifts (jump rope, basketball, bike) to match our child's interest and skill level.

1Media Use And Obesity Among Children. http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_tvandobchild.shtml

Jyl Steinback, "America's Healthiest Mom," is a cookbook author, personal trainer and health expert. Her popular series "Family Fit Lifestyle Cookbooks" have sold more than 2 million copies. "The Busy Mom's Make it Quick Cookbook" (October, 2004) includes over 300 low-fat, quick and healthy recipes. Jyl is a popular motivational speaker and television personality, and she continues as a personal trainer six days a week in Scottsdale, Arizona. The books and fitness products she creates are designed to instill healthy living into every lifestyle.

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