Parents, Encourage Physical Activity!

8 03 2012

Spring and summer approach, and we begin to see the winter coats and boots come off and a new appreciation for summer activities blossom.

I am thankful to reside in the lovely “Aloha” state of Hawaii, where beautiful weather conditions grace us daily, although in any locality, it is difficult at times to keep our kids excited about their fitness and encouraged to stay healthy and active.

According to Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), “Lack of physical activity in childhood raises the risk for obesity and its attendant health problems later in life.”

As parents, we cringe at the thought of our children dealing with the long-term life health issues related to obesity, so what can we do to offer a healthy lifestyle? Lead by example.

The Weight Control Information Networks asserts, “Parents have an effect on children’s physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope with your children shows them that being active is fun.”

These activities can start at nearly any age. My daughter recently turned one year old. After work each day our favorite moments together are playing in the park. We practice “running” (as well as a toddler can), crawling up a steep hill, jumping, climbing, etc. Everything I do, she copies. It is a fun game for both of us!

The same can be done with elementary-age kids. I remember my dad teaching my sister and I how to play baseball. It was the biggest excitement of my day! He would play with us as a reward after we patiently waited for his personal workout to be complete. He encouraged us to play in the same general area as he was exercising to show that he felt physical fitness was important. Years later we competed in 5k races together laughing along the way. He showed me that exercise can be fun, and I enjoy it to this day.

Take the time to enjoy physical activity with your children; it will benefit their lives into adulthood and beyond!

Alexander, D. (2008, July 15). Children’s physical activity drops from age 9 to 15, NIH study indicates.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010, April 07). How can I help my child be more active?  

By Melissa Parnell – Melissa will appear as an occasional guest blogger on this site. She is working on a graduate degree in Human Services with a concentration in health and wellness. She minored in health and wellness in college and is an AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) certified personal trainer.

Image courtesy of Melissa Parnell

Obesity in Children Often Overlooked by Parents

19 07 2010

We love our kids, no matter what.  We want them to be happy, healthy people, but in the U.S., our children’s health is increasingly at risk from obesity.

A new study “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010”  released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that 1/3rd of American children are now overweight or obese and nearly 10% of infants and toddlers are overweight. That is triple (triple!!) the childhood obesity rate of 1980.

Polls reveal that many parents believe that childhood obesity is a big problem, yet fail to recognize the problem within their own household. Obesity in children (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, between the 85th and 96th percentile for their age and gender) is reaching such epidemic proportions that Dr. James Marks, RWJF’s senior vice president says,“We’re in danger of raising the first generation of children who could live sicker and die younger than the generation before them” [emphasis added].

First Lady Michelle Obama is tackling the issue with the Let’s Move! campaign, a national effort to bring healthier food to schools and to low-income areas, and to get kids exercising.

From a health standpoint, there are few things a parent can do for a child that are more important than introducing a healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), here are some actions parents and families can take to encourage healthier habits in kids:  

  1. Make sure your child eats breakfast daily
  2. Choose family meals together rather than eating out
  3. Limit screen time (less than 2 hours per day is recommended)
  4. Pay attention – relatively speaking your child may look “healthy,” but keep in mind that he/she may be surrounded by other overweight kids
  5. Encourage your child to get at least one hour  of exercise each day

It’s been shown time and again that too much screen time, whether sitting in front of video games, television, phones, or computers, is linked to insufficient exercise and an overall sedentary lifestyle, which in turn can lead to overweight kids. Along with eating foods overly packed with fat and calories (such as fast food) American kids are spending too much time sitting around.

In the words of a Nike commercial, we need to get our kids up off the couch, get them outside, and inspire them (hopefully with our own active healthy example) to“Just Do It!”


Less is More?

1 03 2010

Don’t you love it when health experts tell us that we need to spend less time exercising?  This good news comes with a warning: consult your physician before starting any new physical activity.

Interval training is 45 minutes of short bursts of intense exercise a week. This takes the place of the 2.5 hours of weekly exercise recommended in Britain and the U.S.

Will it work on middle-aged people who sit at a desk all day, or will it just give us all heart attacks?  More studies are needed.


Sitting Through Life, or How To Die a Slow, Painful Death

27 01 2010

Oh, my achin’ buttocks!  Did you hear the latest?  Apparently, even if we exercise as we should, sitting around on our rear ends all day may kill us.

This could potentially wipe out 50 percent of our staff.  The part-timers are safe, but those of us glued to our ‘puters eight hours a day (or more, because I put in the overtime, unlike some colleagues I could mention, but why go there) are staring death straight in the face, or some other body part, we’re not really sure where to fix our gaze.

Studies are reporting that those of us who perform our jobs sitting down are more likely to be fat (check), have a heart attack (yikes), or even ride that big office chair to the sky.

We cut back on trans fats, we force down whole grains, and some of us even exercise.  And now we find it’s all for naught?

Pass the doughnuts, ’cause I’m sittin’ down.


Kids and Exercise

18 01 2010

Physical activity is good for kids. It helps to control weight, reduce blood pressure, and increase HDL (the good kind of cholesterol). It reduces the risk of getting diabetes and some kinds of cancer, and it improves emotional well-being by improving confidence and self-esteem.

How much physical activity do our little darlings need? Current U.S. guidelines suggest 60 minutes or more daily is a good goal for children.

Aerobic activity—the kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping, such as walking or running—should make up most of the 60 or more minutes  per day.

Muscle strengthening should also be a part of the child’s day at least 3 days per week. This would include activities such as gymnastics, climbing trees or playing on a jungle gym.

Activities that strengthen bones, such as jumping rope or running, should also be included at least 3 days per week.

Children are naturally active. They don’t need to lift weights or run on a treadmill to get their exercise or strengthen their muscles. They’ll easily meet their targets for physical activity when they have opportunity for breaks throughout the day to play vigorously at activities that are appropriate for their age, gender, and level of physical and emotional development.

To promote physical activity for your kids, limit the amount of time they spend watching television and playing video games and make physical activity fun.

As a parent (and you knew this was coming), role-model an active lifestyle and provide opportunities for your kids to increase their physical activity.