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ENCOURAGING HEALTH &
FITNESS IN CHILDREN

Drink this. Take that pill. Mix a powder. Use this machine. Join that club. Buy the video. Modern adults seem to have an ever increasing urge to not only get fit, but to get fit faster and easier then ever before. While more adults exercise at the health clubs, their children are still at home.

Obesity rates in children continue to climb. The Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports reports three out of four school age children have three or more risk factors for heart disease. Video games, snacking, TV and lack of fitness programs at schools due to shrinking budgets are all contributors to this sad trend. Sedentary lifestyles of children can have the same adverse effects as on the adult population: obesity, heart disease, hypertension, poor muscle strength/tone and low self-esteem to mention only a few.

What can we do to help slow and eventually reverse this course? Plenty. First, the entire family needs to be committed to improving their health and lifestyle. It's been my experience as both a trainer and health club director that when more people get involved, the accountability level rises, resulting in greater program adherence.

Children model their parents, so mom and dad need to lead by example. Encourage activities such as walking, hiking bicycling, Frisbee, etc.. Anything that gets children moving is better than riding that couch night after night. A nice side-effect of these family activities are the greater bonds that develop due to the quality time that is created.

Commitment from the family doesn't stop at the activity level. The kitchen also needs to be monitored. Recently, an enraged mother brought her overweight 14 year-old child in to see me. She stated, 'You must do something with my son, it's ridiculous!' Upon completion of the required health history, it was determined that the child ingested 12 cans of Coke per day! I doubt he was purchasing that quantity all by himself!

Parents need to get involved in their children's eating habits as well. Don't cut off all sugary pleasures, but attempt to harness some degree of moderation. Cutting everything out "cold turkey" is tough and results in poor adherence. Gradually eliminating potentially fattening foods and educating children on responsible eating habits has been, in my experience, far more successful. Offer a variety of healthy foods and few high calorie snacks. Some other tips to remember when it comes to eating: do not eat while watching TV. Studies suggest people eat more since they are not really conscious of eating. Try to chew your food more slowly, taking time to enjoy the flavor and avoid late night snacking. Custom fitness programs

A fitness program for children should above all, be fun. Children have short attention spans and require a great deal of excitement and program diversity if they are to make fitness a lifestyle change. Prying children from the TV can be difficult in the beginning, but certainly not impossible. Please consult a physician should your child have any special needs or restrictions before continuing.

Let's look at two main components of fitness and see how we can meet the needs of each one. Cardiovascular This is perhaps the most important item on the list of fitness concerns. It is through cardiovascular training that one burns those calories, reduces weight, and decreases the risks of heart disease and high blood pressure. It also responsible for positive changes in stamina and endurance. Cardiovascular activity is an activity that elevates your heart rate above its nominal resting level and sustains it for a specific time. For our purposes, we want the children to move at a brisk but comfortable pace for at least 20 minutes, three times per week. Some examples of cardiovascular activity that qualify are: running, walking, skating, bicycling, soccer, hiking and jumping rope. As mentioned earlier, anything that gets the kids moving is better then just sitting lethargically. Going for those family walks and hikes are great for unwinding and finding out just what is happening in your child's life.

Strength training

Muscle strength and endurance is the second point of fitness we want to consider in the child's program. People often ask me if they should have their children lift weights. It is a very difficult question to answer in the scope of this article. In general, I believe children should start using "free-body" exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, bar-dips, box-jumping, etc. to develop muscle strength and coordination first before moving into a weight room setting. These exercises should be done every other day, after cardiovascular activity. The movements should be challenging but not difficult nor straining. A child's body is very delicate and due to cartilage immaturity, developing motor skills and other conditions, weight lifting should be avoided until a good foundation of strength and biomechanics is achieved. Studies indicate that children do improve sports performance, flexibility and overall strength with resistance training. When a program is eventually implemented, the child should receive supervision from a qualified instructor who is aware of their special needs.

There are other components to fitness also such as flexibility, body composition, etc., but by addressing the main concerns, we will positively affect all others. The points to remember are to keep fitness simple, fun, lead by example and aim for consistency. Think of fitness as a bank account-by putting some time in now, you'll be saving for a future that will pay big dividends. Good luck!

Written by: Sean Kenny,



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