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Focus on fitness: Getting kids active

Posted: September 5, 2011 - 8:00am

Editor’s note: “Focus on Fitness” is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

According to a February 2011 article in Scientific American “How to Fix the Obesity Crisis” by David H. Freedman, one-third of Americans are obese and another third are overweight. While this article provided evidence of the complexity of this problem it also provided credence to proven methods to attack it. By targeting behaviors we can make a difference. Freedman sites three things that stand out among people who lose weight and keep it off:

1. Exercise on a regular basis and document efforts.
2. Check weight often and record results.
3. Keep a record of caloric intake.

The single most important behavior needed to lose weight is being physically active. Participation in physical activity has many benefits even if one does not lose weight through the program. The best time to guide people toward an active lifestyle is when they are young. Get them active early and they are more likely to stick with it when they are adults. In order to accomplish this goal parents, educators and coaches should use a positive approach when presenting physical activity to kids.
Kids are always looking for fun and will come back to activities they enjoy. Part of making physical activity fun is creating a non-threatening environment. Adults must refrain from derogatory comments related to skill level/effort or personal attacks/name calling. They must also do their best to prevent other kids from spouting derogatory comments. It is absolutely no fun to be chastised by an adult/peer and kids will avoid situations where this is tolerated.

Bullying and dirty play/cheating can also take the fun out of an activity. Physical play is an important part of many sports but is a real fun killer when the rules of the game are not enforced. Injury is also more likely to occur when play is out of control. Most kids will refuse to continue to participate in activities that are out of control and poorly supervised. When kids learn what appropriate play is they are more likely to play that way even when unsupervised.

A lack of effort on a child’s part may be an indication they do not like the activity or simply an attempt to get attention. Either way the child should be pulled aside to discuss the problem. Some kids like all sports and activities while others are more selective. Usually with exposure to a variety of choices a child will find something they like.

Maintaining physical safety is also essential. If equipment/facilities are in poor condition the incidence of injury rises greatly. It is no fun to get hurt. Poor equipment/facilities can also be a source of frustration and hinder development. Proper footwear, safety equipment and clothing are important too.

Improving a child’s level of fitness is a very important outcome of participation in physical activity. Gaining knowledge of fitness concepts will help a child understand how to get fit and the benefits that come with fitness. Make an effort to incorporate the three basic areas of fitness into activities, strength, aerobic and flexibility. As they work on these areas of fitness describe some of the benefits as they relate to sport and health/wellness.

Crunches, push-ups, reverse push-ups and lunges are good for building strength and are easily incorporated into a practice plan. Six months after the onset of puberty it is safe to begin a more organized strength training program. Schools often offer strength training opportunities through classes or during off season training. Local gyms are another place to develop a strength training program. It is important to have proper instruction in developing a program to avoid injury and gain optimal results. Strength training improves sport performance but more importantly it is key to maintaining fitness and weight as we age.

Some activities are aerobic in nature such as swimming, biking, hiking, running and skiing. For all activities try to incorporate aerobic exercise. For example, you may have participants dribble a basketball or soccer ball while they jog. Encourage kids to keep moving during drills, help them understand that keeping their heart rate elevated is necessary to improve fitness. Have kids do some dynamic flexibility exercises prior to activity and static stretching after.

Making activity fun is by far the most important factor in getting kids active and keeping them active. Once kids are hooked into some activities they enjoy they will be all ears about how their participation will help their health/wellness and how fitness will make them better at their sport/activity.

In the book “Joy and Sadness in Children’s Sport” by Rainer Martens, a study of little league players is cited in explaining why kids are motivated to participate in sports. Overwhelmingly kids wanted to participate to have fun. When asked if they would rather be on a losing team and get lots of playing time or on a winning team and not play much, the vast majority said they would choose the losing team. While they viewed winning as fun, playing time was more important.

It is clear that most kids are looking for fun in physical activity and parents, educators, coaches and others who are supervising activities can help make activities fun. Kids who adopt an active lifestyle are far less likely to become obese or overweight. It is well worth the extra effort needed to make physical activity fun for kids and guide them toward an active lifestyle.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at ccstephens@gci.net.

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