ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal:
Departments: Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share
This copy-and-share column provides tips for encouraging physical activity among children and adolescents.
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Does the phrase "children playing" produce mental images of kids running, jumping, and riding bikes? Unfortunately, these active forms of play are replaced often by sedentary activities like playing video games and watching TV. The combination of low daily physical activity and poor nutrition choices has resulted in obesity rates for U.S. children that have more than doubled during the past 30 years. The link between obesity and chronic disease means that this trend has dire consequences for our youth. In 1999, obesity-related hospital costs for children ages 6 to 17 were an astounding $127 million. To reverse these alarming statistics, adults must take an active role in fighting this battle.
Symbol Encourage Regular Physical Activity
Participation in sports leads to healthy physical and emotional development. Children who enjoy athletic competition typically have school- or community-based programs available. However, for some children, activities such as bicycling, skateboarding, or dance provide more appeal. The key is to find an activity that the child enjoys. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports provides information on encouraging exercise, and the President's Challenge is a program that gives recognition for participation in regular physical activity. Information can be found on the Internet at www.fitness.gov.
Busy families often find it hard to make time for exercise, but parents who are active themselves are less likely to have overweight children. Planning weekend adventures that engage the entire family in physical activity (taking hikes, visiting a local swimming pool, etc.) provide opportunities to have fun while being active.
Symbol Discourage Sedentary Behaviors and Poor Food Choices
Children's obesity rates are associated with the time spent being sedentary. American children spend around 5.5 hours per day in sedentary activities such as watching TV or using a computer. By replacing sedentary time with physical activity, children are much more likely to have a healthy body weight.
Children need help with making healthy food choices. Children need access to healthy, nutritious alternatives to foods high in calories but low in nutritional content. Engaging children in meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking helps educate them about food and encourages them to eat a healthy diet.
Symbol Become a Community Advocate
The number of schools requiring routine physical education is declining. Physical education is a critical part of the daily energy expenditure of many children, particularly those not engaged in sports. Local school boards need to hear that you recognize the importance of providing opportunities to be active during the school day. It also is important to advocate for safe and accessible places for children to play. Parks, playgrounds, community centers, and greenways are examples of some of the physical additions to our communities that can encourage children to be active.
These are just a few examples of ways you can encourage kids to lead an active life, and remember-MAKE IT FUN! As they participate in fun, active pursuits, they begin to develop positive attitudes toward exercise that will last a lifetime.