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Summer is a great time to get outdoors with your kids to enjoy the sunshine and help them get their daily dose of physical activity. Researchers on childhood obesity have been sounding the alarm for more than 20 years, warning Americans that obesity is on the rise. Junk food and lack of exercise are among the culprits. More than 15 percent of U.S. kids between ages 2 and 5 years old are obese. In addition to being more prone to high blood pressure and diabetes as they age, these kids are also more likely to experience low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. With many kids spending seven or more hours a day in front of screens, it is more important than ever that we make daily exercise a part of their routine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children and teens get at least one hour of physical activity per day. Activities like jumping rope, running, climbing on monkey bars and gymnastics are fun ways that kids can fulfill their daily quota and strengthen their bones and muscles. During adolescence, kids develop 33 percent to 45 percent of their total bone mass. You can find the Body Mass Index Calculator for children and teens online and assess your child’s weight relative to his or her height. Once you complete the screening, a visit to your child’s doctor can help you address any concerns.

Make it fun. Turn a walk into a game for your children, or incorporate short races into your walk. Take them to the playground or a nearby park to get some exercise while socializing with other kids. Sign them up for a team sport or take advantage of summer camp opportunities.

Many girls, especially, tend to let exercise slide once they reach their teen years. You can encourage your teen daughters to get their daily exercise with a focus on overall health rather than body image. Exercise promotes better sleep, better concentration, feeling better, being stronger and increased muscle mass.

Throughout each day children and adolescents need 60 minutes of physical activity. They can fit it in all at once or do short bursts of activity throughout the day. The goal is for them to get their heartbeat up and to instill healthy habits that will carry them into a healthy adulthood.

This summer, stock your fridge with healthy, nutritious foods and teach your child about portion sizes. Help them visualize common objects as a way to measure servings. An ounce of dry cereal is about the size of a baseball, a serving of raisins is about the size of a golf ball and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter will look like a ping-pong ball as they scoop it out of the jar, etc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website lists many more examples.

Finally, take time to consider the stress load your children are experiencing. Balance may seem like an elusive goal, but do your best to build in some down time for your kids and for yourself. Healthy eating, regular exercise and enjoyable relaxation time will not only make your summer more fun, it will launch your family toward a healthier future.

Kris Pate is executive director of United Way of LaPorte County. The opinions are the writer's.

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