for release Friday October 24, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Getting Your Kids to Be More Active: Everybody Wins
How do you get your kids to be more active? How do you get yourself to be more active?
The two go together of course. It is hard to get your kids off the computer chair if you spend half your time there yourself. And we all know the proven formula: improved health equals moderate diet plus exercise.
What are some of the health benefits of exercise besides helping to lose or control weight?
My greatest inspirations in the "gotta get that exercise" department are not the young curvies on workout tapes and magazines, but rather two older women, both in their upper 70s. One of them is my mother who has been walking about a half hour a day four times a week (and this is religiously) for the last 20 years ever since her doctor told her that her cholesterol was way too high. She is so disciplined that it gets me going, so my mother is still wordlessly pushing me to get up off my chair even while she lives 600 miles away.
Another older woman says what keeps her going is the knowledge that your bones and joints simply work better if they stay in use as you age. Exercise helps to stem the tide of bone and tissue loss leading to brittle bones and osteoporosis. Of course it is not a cure-all-sometimes exercise causes injury. But for the most part and done carefully, exercise helps circulation, maintains muscles, helps keep stronger bones, keeps the heart pumping, and keeps blood flowing to the brain. I often feel that I think clearer on days that I've gotten in a good walk.
Our society is in great angst about the incidence of overweight and obesity and who is at fault. I was struck by the differences which may come from city living versus country living the last time I went to a large city. I felt like I was seeing far fewer hugely overweight people in the city, and as I watched everyone walking to get to where they were going, I wondered if this is partly the reason. Yes commuters might use bus or subway for the majority of the trip but at the beginning and end of the day they are probably walking at least several long city blocks to get to their mass transit connection. That's regular exercise. Few of us in the "country" actually get farmer-type exercise anymore. A natural beginning point is to try to get all the exercise we can as we go about our daily routine. This doesn't cost anything or take up much extra time (like parking at the far end of the parking lot, using the stairs).
Not to point fingers, but I have been a little unhappy with the physical education programs in our public schools. Not that P.E. ever really got anyone in shape when I was a kid, but at least we worked the whole period long at whatever sport was "in" for those six weeks. Too often now, at least according to my kids, many gym periods are "free for alls" where kids just shoot baskets, kick a ball or throw softballs in an unorganized way. The teacher/coach is away in an office working on defensive or offensive strategies for his or her team. The kids who don't feel like shooting baskets sit in the bleachers and talk or even escape behind the bleachers and hang out. There have been notable exceptions with good teachers but I have a suspicion that my kids' experience is not uncommon in many of our schools.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a campaign encouraging children (and their parents) to get active. It's called VERB: It's What You Do and focuses on finding ways for parents to do fun and active things with their kids. They have a great website with lots of ideas for pursuing things (especially this fall), such as starting a family tradition of taking a walk each Wednesday after work/school (or maybe Sunday afternoon), a game of touch or Frisbee football, making games out of raking. Or what about encouraging those old childhood pastimes of hopscotch and rope jumping? Playing tag, hide and seek, "green light, red light," and even "duck, duck, goose" are all games that get you running and being active.
"Children are more likely to continue physical activity if they enjoy it," says Dr. Jim Marks, director of the campaign. The extra benefit for families is that kids usually love to do anything that gets them playing with their parents (at least while they're younger). If you establish those kinds of activity bonds while they are younger, we hope they will want to keep doing active stuff with you as they get older even if the sport changes from tag to swimming or wall-climbing.
Now, go do something!
Visit the Verb web site for kids 9-13 at www.verbnow.com <http://www.verbnow.com> and an accompanying site for parents is www.verbparents.com <http://www.verbparents.com>
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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