By Alysha Wallace
Staying active this time of year is difficult for everyone. The cold weather hits, it’s dark when you get home, the kid’s activities are winding down, the holidays are right around the corner… the list of excuses can go on and on. Good news – the New Year is a perfect time to make family goals for getting active!
Our home state of Louisiana has some scary statistics. Did you know that in Louisiana, 81% of students are not engaging in the minimum suggested levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity? Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why 36% of our state’s children and youth classify as either overweight or obese.
Being overweight affects a student’s physical, psychological, and social well-being. A long-term issue is that overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults. When someone is carrying extra weight, they run a higher risk of developing early onset of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. We are starting to see obese children developing chronic health issues that would typically appear in adulthood. These include, but are not limited to high blood pressure, asthma, type 2 diabetes, sleep and hormonal disorders. Because adolescence is a developmental period during which significant psychological and physical changes occur, if students learn to enjoy physical activity now, they will likely continue it through life. Helping your child learn to enjoy physical activity will also give them added mental and physical health benefits.
Socially and emotionally, overweight kids are more likely to be teased and bullied. Weight-related teasing or bullying is especially prevalent during childhood and adolescence, with the majority of teasing taking place between first and sixth grades. Sadly, they are often too embarrassed to inform their parents. They have lower self-esteem and are at increased risk for depression and suicide. Recent studies report that people who are physically active are three times less likely to suffer from depression than inactive individuals. This is why it is important to get kids involved in sports, whether individual or team. Parallels exist between life and sports, including problem solving, goal setting, teamwork, communication, management of success and failure, and receiving and applying constructive feedback. These sports programs are especially important for girls, because girls are more at risk for being sedentary than boys. Athletes who compete in group sports are connected with people of similar ages who are moving toward similar goals. They are building memories with peers during practice and games. These friendships naturally carry over off the field so that students have someone to sit with at lunch, hangout during recess or after school.
What can you do as a parent to combat these statistics? Active students participate in moderate to vigorous activity on a regular basis. Health authorities recommend that kids get sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise each day. This physical activity can come through group sports or a combination of group and individual sports. This time can be achieved in a collective manner from physical education, recess, sports, or before and after school programs. These activities should be enjoyable and developmentally appropriate. As parents, you need to limit the amount of kids’ sedentary time. Evaluate how much time your kids spend playing video games, watching television, using the computer, or other non-athletic extra-curricular activities such as work or academics. This sedentary time needs to be substituted with activity. Youth who have been physically inactive should decrease sedentary behaviors to less than two hours per day and should safely increase their physical activity by 10 percent per week. Increasing physical activity too rapidly can lead to injury.
It’s important to get creative and make exercise fun. Hop down the hall, bear crawl your way to the dinner table, roll out the yoga mats, or build an obstacle course in the house. Kids also love friendly competition. For example, see who can plank the longest, create an exercise scavenger hunt, family boot camps, or pickup basketball games. Running is one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss and it is convenient and inexpensive. It’s interesting, when you ask parents to recall their fondest memories of childhood, most respond with “playing tag,” “climbing trees,” or “playing catch”. Allow your kids these same memories and get some movement into their day.
Intellectually, statistics show that fit kids score twice as well on academic tests compared to their unfit peers. Why not combine movement and homework to kill two birds with one stone? You can practice moving while doing homework. In my first-grade class, we do jumping jacks while practicing spelling words. When the dance move “dab” was popular, we would dab our spelling words. It is so important for students to move while learning. If your child is a cheerleader, allow them to make up cheers to go along with their study guide. Also, allow your student to stand while completing their homework. Traditional education involves desk, pen, and paper. Because of this educational style, students are asked to sit most of their school day. They should be allowed movement during the unstructured parts of their day.
Sometimes this time of the year, you just need to get out of the house. Shreveport-Bossier offers many opportunities for kids to get active during the dark, cold winter months. Bowling is a family friendly activity that can be done year-round. Holiday Lanes in Bossier frequently offers special pricing if you sign up for their emails. We have two different indoor trampoline parks in the area. These are great for family fun, or a time when you need the kids to burn some energy while you watch from afar. G-Rock offers indoor climbing for people of all ages. Children can participate in after school classes, take lessons, or visit during the free climb hours. Mall St. Vincent has an indoor putt-putt place called Lunar Golf. This is a fun activity for the whole family. Karate is available year-round. It has the ability to help mentally, physically, and improve leadership skills. Even in the winter, the BHP Billiton YMCA offers indoor swimming. Members can join a swim team, take swimming lessons, or splash around in the kid’s pool. D1 is also available year-round in Shreveport. They have age-appropriate classes designed to help children of all ages reach their individual goals. Breathe Yoga studio offers children’s yoga classes and workshops. Sportspectrum also offers a monthly one-mile race series called “Kids on the Run.” Races take place at various locations throughout the school year. You can register through Sportspectrum.
Obesity is a pressing issue in our communities. We have to start educating our children at a young age about a healthy lifestyle as well as encourage parents to think about health and fitness as a family affair. Take some time this New Year to create movement goals for your family. Your child’s physical, psychological, and social well-being will thank you!
– Armstrong, S., & Oomen-Early, J. (2009). Social connectedness, self-esteem, and depression symptomatology among collegiate athletes versus non athletes. Journal of American College Health, 57(5), 521-526.
– Debate, R. D., Gabriel, K. P., Zwald, M., Huberty, J., & Zhang, Y. (2009). Changes in psychosocial factors and physical activity frequency among third- to eighth-grade girls who participated in a developmentally focused youth sport program: a preliminary study. Journal of School Health, 79(10), 474-484. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2009.00437.x
– Greenleaf, C., Petrie, T. A., & Martin, S. B. (2014). Relationship of weight-based teasing and adolescents’ psychological well-being and physical health. Journal of School Health, 84(1), 49-55. doi:10.1111/josh.12118
– Strong, W.B., Robert, M.M., Blimkie, C. J.R., Daniels, S.R. & Trudeau, F. (2005). Evidence based physical activity for school-aged youth. Journal of Pediatrics.