HealthZette

How Our Kids Can Beat Obesity

Psssst ... it all starts at home, and it's about making exercise fun

“It’s really fun and you get to try and do new things,” said 11-year-old James Kirkus of Irmo, South Carolina, of his typical workout routine.

Kirkus has been taking a boys’ ninja freestyle class at Chapin Christian Gymnastics, a local business near his home. The class is a little parkour, a little American Ninja Warrior, even a little gymnastics. While he thinks it’s just fun and games, it’s a little like sneaking vegetables into a kid’s dinner. It’s actually good for him.

“Kids have to learn that movement is fun and physical fitness is fun. It’s something that lasts a lifetime. If we can teach them now to do this kind of thing, then hopefully they’ll have lifelong habits in place to make good choices and to enjoy,” said Millie Godines, owner of Chapin Christian Gymnastics.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the overall obesity rate for children ages 2 through 19 is now at 17 percent. A closer look at the statistics, however, shows there is good news for children ages 2 through 5. The obesity rate for that age group is 8.4 percent, down from 13.9 percent in 2003.

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“This tells me that the message is getting out to young families, and that the health care team and the national messaging is beginning to impact younger parent’s behaviors,” said Cris Dobrosielski of San Diego, California. Dobrosielski is a certified personal trainer and senior consultant with the American Council on Exercise.

Children ages 12 to 19 still have an obesity rate of just over 20 percent.

“Sitting, usually associated with TV viewing and excessive video game playing, is a problem and continues to be a big player in childhood obesity/overweight issues,” said Dobrosielski.

That’s one of the reasons our society is struggling with obesity. And “inexpensive, highly convenient, low nutritional value snacks, easy-to-fix meals and the lack of education for parents and children about the dangerous link between limited physical fitness activities also play a big role,” he added.

The value in movement extends to more than just physical fitness and health. A study by Active Living Research shows that physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance. Children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks almost immediately after physical activity. Over time, fitness can have additional positive effects on academic performance in math, reading and writing.

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Godines sees those kinds of benefits in her gym.

“When we teach kids movement, it actually impacts their education and their reading and their other abilities to think and to multitask and to multifunction.”

So with all the benefits, how do you get your children to move? ”

The activities should feel more like games than ‘exercise,’” said Dobrosielski. “Be creative. Outside is better than inside. And use a variety of tools and props, jump ropes, cones, and other appropriate, safe-weighted objects to create a visually stimulating environment.”

Godines agrees.

“Find something they love and have them do it. Don’t give them a choice of not doing anything physical, because if they have a choice to sit and play a video game all day long, they will. Find something they love to do. Keep them moving,” she said.

If a class or gym membership isn’t in your budget, consider making a home obstacle course. Ideally, you should have five different stations. Here are a few recommendations from the ACE:

1: Couch sit and jump: Sit slowly on the couch, then jump up off your feet, land softly, and repeat 20 times.

2: Kitchen sock running man: Wear slippery socks in the kitchen and while in a push-up position, slide your feet up, down and all around for 30 seconds.

3: Hallway or outdoor shuttle run: Pick a short distance and quickly sprint from one end to the other 10 times as fast as you can. (Watch out for barriers and reinforce basic safety rules.)

4: Doorway jumps: Place a mat or small rug in the middle of the doorway. The goal is to jump from one side of doorway to the other without touching the mat. Start by standing on your left foot and jump across doorway, landing on your right foot and repeat. Continue jumping side to side for 30 seconds.

5: Table or couch circle run: Clear an area around your kitchen table or couch. Try to run as many circles clockwise for 30 seconds, then reverse direction and repeat. Try to match the number of laps you did in each direction.

6: Remote control balance touches: Holding onto a remote, balance on your left leg only and try to touch the remote to the floor without using your right leg for help. Repeat 10 touches with the left leg, then switch to the right leg. See how many touches you can get on each leg without help from other leg.

7: Hot steps: Standing at the bottom of a step, safely step up and down as quickly as you can. Count to see how many times you can go up and down that one step in 30 seconds. Repeat, leading with the opposite foot.

“It’s really cool. It’s a lot more fun than exercise,” 12-year-old Michael Kirkus told LifeZette.

But it is exercise, so in the effort to better physically engage our children and ensure somehow that they have a healthy future — we all come out ahead.