September 27, 2004
Encouraging kids to be active promotes lifelong fitness
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—On a Saturday morning when many of his peers were munching sugar-laden cereals and watching cartoons, Sam Peddicord of Madison was happily hoofing across the finish line at Methodist’s Rehabilitation Center’s Reunion Race in Flowood.
The 7-year-old has discovered the joys of an active lifestyle, and his mom Linda couldn’t be prouder. As a registered dietitian at Methodist, she knows how important the habit is to his lifelong health.
Many of Peddicord’s adult patients suffer from obesity-related diseases such as stroke and diabetes. And she fears today’s sedentary youth are headed for the same grim future.
“Watching TV, playing video games and having more of an indoor lifestyle is part of what has contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled since 1980 and the rate for adolescents has tripled. Rates are highest among children of color: 4 in 10 Mexican American and African American youth ages 6 to 19 are considered overweight or at risk of being overweight.
As a result, doctors are now seeing more lifestyle-related diseases taking root in childhood. “Now they’re recognizing Type 2 diabetes in children and that used to be unheard of,” Peddicord said.
Methodist physical therapist Cathy Henderson said parents can help their children prevent such health problems by encouraging physical activity at an early age.
“Parents have the most influence over a child’s eating and exercising habits, good and bad,” Henderson said. “Be proactive and make sure physical activity is a part of your child’s daily routine. This will help establish good exercise habits and challenge motor coordination.”
Henderson said children can develop positive attitudes about physical activity if parents make it fun, diverse and a part of the family’s weekly routine.
“Limiting television time, videos, computer games and Internet time will allow for more spontaneous physical activity,” Henderson said. “Be creative and encourage indoor games like Twister, which gets them moving and promotes flexibility.”
It’s also a good idea to plan vacations around physical activity. “Plan a family ski trip or go hiking together,” Henderson said. “If you’re on a cruise, encourage the kids to go swimming. At Disney World, walk to the attractions rather than taking the shuttle.”
Linda recognized an opportunity to improve Sam’s activity level when his teachers mentioned he loved to run laps and might enjoy participating in one-mile fun runs. She signed him up for a race, and he hasn’t slowed down since. “He has done about eight and he really enjoys them,” she said.
For Reunion Race, mom and son tried the 3-mile walk, and Sam got a big kick out of placing first among the male walkers age 19 and under, Linda said. “He was so proud of his trophy, he took it to school that Monday morning.”
Linda said Sam plans to join Madison Station Elementary’s Jaguar Runners Club. “It’s a loosely organized club that encourages runners and it’s open to all kids, not just the best sprinters,” she said.
Linda said running suits her son’s personality better than team sports, and she’s happy he has found an activity he can stick with for life. “You can’t always find someone to play football with, but you always can walk or run. It is really a good life fitness activity, so we are encouraging him to stick with it.”
Sam, in turn, is helping Mom to stay motivated to exercise, as well. Now when she picks him up from his after-school program, he suggests they hit the facility’s indoor walking track. “He meets me at the door and says: ‘Mom, let’s run.’ He is my inspiration.”
Tips for increasing physical activity:
- Walk or ride a bike to school or to a friend’s house.
- Take your children to the park or swimming pool on sunny days.
- Get involved in exercising with your children. Play tag, Simon Says, chase and other sports.
- Go for walks with the family after dinner instead of watching TV.
- Encourage participation in sports at school and in the community.
- Encourage physical activity by giving special equipment like a bat, ball or Frisbee.