Why does our country have such a huge problem? Family life has changed. Thirty years ago, I rode my bike to school. I ran around at recess, participated in gym class and played outdoors for hours after school. Video games and computers were not the norm. Meals were home cooked, and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and reserved only for special occasions (when my mom was out of town).
Today, children lead a very different lifestyle. Walking or riding your bike to school is no longer considered safe. Physical Education, recess and sports programs have been cut. Kids now spend their afternoons watching television, playing video games and surfing the internet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, today's children are spending an average of six hours per day on entertainment media including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. Six hours per day! Not only do children spend more time with devices, parents are busy and families eat fewer home cooked meals. Snacking between meals is now commonplace and portion sizes have exploded. When Burger King opened in 1954, they offered a 12 oz small soda and a 16 oz large soda. Today the small soda is 20 oz and the large is 42 oz. If we want to stop this epidemic, we need to work together to promote healthy choices and physical activity. Everyone has a role to play. Here are some tips:
Lead by example. The CDC recommends that children (including preschool age children) engage in 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity per day. Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving -- walking, running, dancing, biking, sports, etc.. It doesn't have to be 60 minutes at one time and can be broken into increments of 15 minutes or more. If you're going to work out, why not do it together? Encourage your children to hike, bike, walk, run or dance with you. You'll enjoy quality time together and your workout will be done!
Go to the park. Parks provide endless opportunities for movement -- running, swinging, climbing and jumping from taller surfaces-- which helps build strength, balance and bone density.
Have jump ropes, hula hoops and balls available and provide indoor space so they can be used. These toys can often be found at your local Dollar Store and can be used in as many ways as your can imagine! Let your children create their own games. Design an epic obstacle course. Have a long jump contest between jump ropes. Shoot basketballs into a trash can.
Consider your childhood favorites. Games like flashlight tag, freeze tag, leapfrog, hop scotch, four square and tetherball are great exercise.
Don't forget about swimming and/or swim lessons. Find an indoor pool during the winter months. Not only is swimming great exercise, it is also a vital skill to keep your child safe near pools, lakes and rivers.
Incorporate movement into your daily routines, especially if you don't have much time after work or it's dreary and cold outside. Turn off the television, turn up the music and have a dance party while you clean off the dinner table. Or just have a dance party and forget the dishes. Play basketball with your socks while you fold the laundry. Park a little further from the front door or take the stairs.
Support physical education, outdoor recess and after school sports programs at your local schools. School administrators are under pressure to meet state standards of learning, but it’s important to remember that a child's brain works best when the nervous system is fed regular movement.
Don't forget about nutrition and nutritional education. Talk about healthy choices (fruits and vegetables) and offer them as alternatives to processed and packaged foods.
Good luck. Now stop reading and get moving!