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Children and Health: Keeping Fit and Active

We are seeing more and more the obesity epidemic sweep the country. As we eat more and exercise less, we are dealing with increases in heart problems, diabetes, and medical complications. Unfortunately, the same is true for the children of this generation as well.

We are hearing about it from all perspectives. Nutritionists are criticizing school lunches, fitness instructors are warning against lethargy, doctors are noting a rise in childhood obesity.

Children have never been fatter than they are right now, and contrary to popular belief, it is not that they are consuming more food than in the past. Studies show kids are actually eating less than they did in the ’60s. However, the activity levels are MUCH lower than in previous decades.

As a result, childhood obesity rates have tripled during the past 20 years. If trends continue, by 2020, at least 20% of all boys and 33% of girls will be obese. This is a scary prospect, as overweight and obese children are exposed to a multitude of major health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
It is important to note that health issues don’t just affect the overweight and obese. Even if your child is within the normal weight range, if they’re inactive they’re losing out on several health benefits, including enhanced immune systems, improved self-esteem, reduced stress and anxiety and healthier bones.

Numerous studies point to the fact that the way children start their life will determine how they will remain for the rest of their lives, so if they’re overweight now, they’re likely to become overweight or obese adults. Couple this with the gaming craze and it is easy to see from where the problem stems.

Children naturally enjoy being active, so parents should encourage this with a wide variety of opportunities which are fun. This not only helps the whole family to keep fit and healthy, but helps children see that exercise is for life. Forming a good habit early on is far easier than breaking a bad one later.So, here are some ideas to get your children active and healthy, based on age of the child:

BIRTH TO 18 MONTHS

While exercise isn’t the main concern with babies, it’s still important to give them the space and opportunity to move around. Children begin developing their physical abilities at birth. They crawl, stand, totter, walk, then they run, then they see who can run the farthest or the fastest – it all starts from day one so give them a good head-start and encourage movement. Taking them out in a stroller will help them value being outdoors and appreciate fresh air.

PRESCHOOLERS

There are no official recommendations for minimum weekly activity for preschoolers, although guidelines advise that children of this age shouldn’t be sedentary for more than an hour at a time. They also recommend no more than 30 minutes television viewing for the under-threes.
Whenever possible let them roam freely – under close supervision of course – and burn off all that boundless energy. If they’re bored with the local playing field, park, or playground, introduce an occasional trip to a beach or lake to comb for hidden treasures or walk a nature trail, keeping an eye out for curious creatures. When you can, walk to the shops or to visit the grandparents rather than hopping in the car. You can always take the stroller along in case they tire along the way.

SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN

The recommendations are that children of this age should be active for an hour, five days a week. It might sound a lot, but when you break it down it’s easily achievable.
Adult activity is structured and organized, but children can meet their activity needs mainly through active play. Like young animals they’re driven to play incessantly and if given the opportunity and encouragement almost always will. One of the best ways to make sure they get all the exercise and play they need is to head outside. When they’re given free rein, most will naturally run, climb, hop, skip and jump. They’re also more likely to do it if they have a friend along, so gather a small group of friends together. If you’re concerned about keeping an eye on them, invite their parents along too so you can share the responsibility of keeping an eye on them as they race around.

The weekends are time spent together so family outings should be active ones. Swim at the local pool, play in the park, take the bikes out or make a trip to the beach. If they show an interest in a team sport, the main focus should be on having fun and developing basic skills, not producing the next professional athlete.

11 AND OLDER

Recent research from the Sports Council shows that physical activity levels decline between the ages of nine and 18 and today only 24% of 11-16-year-olds are active for the recommended levels. This goes some way to explaining the reasons why more than a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they go to middle school.

It can be hard to encourage teens and pre-teens to get involved in sport and exercise as it’s often seen as “uncool”, and girls in particular tend to feel more self-conscious. If they show an interest in any sport, game or active pursuit you should jump on that and help make it happen.

As well as encouraging them, don’t forget you’re also a role model. If they see you lounging in front of the TV every evening and getting in the car for every short trip then they’ll take this as the norm. The more you set the expectation of a healthy, active lifestyle, the more your children will follow in your footsteps!

(Some information taken from www.icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news)

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