Americans are among the unhealthiest people in the world – 68 percent are considered either obese or overweight and 192 million people are not active to healthy standards. One of the biggest causes of obesity is inactivity. Nearly 20 percent of children are living an inactive lifestyle, a number continuing to climb at an alarming rate. Regular physical activity decreases the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and depression – but children benefit in more ways than you might think. Outlined below is some expert advice for getting children active and preparing for a happy and healthy life.
By participating in regular exercise, parents can instill the value of an active lifestyle in their children. Try new classes at the gym or start training for a half-marathon. Setting goals will help you stay motivated. Kids are more likely to commit to their own athletic aspirations by following their parents’ example.
It takes approximately 21 days for a new activity to become a habit. Getting your kids to put down the video games might seem a daunting prospect at first, but start small. Try fun games that can be played in the backyard like tag or hide-and-seek. Get children excited to be active; it should never be a punishment.
Sports provide a platform for children to build character and acquire social skills like teamwork, cooperation and leadership. Through sports, kids learn self-discipline and how to win and lose graciously while developing motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Participation has also been shown to foster higher self-esteem and body image.
Studies show increased brain activity in children after 20 minutes of walking, leading to better academic performance. Just as adults need regular breaks during the work day to clear the mind, children benefit from physical activity.
The skills learned on the playing field translate to the classroom as well. Children who understand hard work pays off in sports are more likely to apply the same energy to school work. High school athletes are more likely to experience academic success and graduate than sedentary peers.
The Center for Disease Control recommends 30 minutes of exercise five days per week to take full advantage of a healthy lifestyle. In adults and children, regular exercise improves mood, boosts energy levels and promotes better sleep patterns. “Physical activity really is a wonder drug. It makes you healthier and happier, you live longer,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden.
Mix things up! Play mini golf, visit the local pool and play water games, or sign up for a local road race. By participating in a range of fun activities, children are more likely to remain engaged and interested in staying active on their own and with friends.
A healthy and balanced diet is important but counting calories isn’t enough. Studies show fit children actually consume more calories than overweight peers. By instilling physically active habits at a young age, children are more likely to remain healthy and fit later in life.
Obesity impacts a child’s psychological well-being in addition to physical health. Overweight children and adults are more likely to suffer from poor body image and self-consciousness. An active lifestyle improves confidence and self-esteem - tools children can use for success in adulthood.
P.E. classes help prepare children to be fit and healthy for life. The average school budget for physical education programs is $764 annually and only 48 percent offer P.E. to students. Research by the Physical Activity Council shows children who are offered the class are less sedentary and participate in more activities and sports outside of school. The Physical Education Program (PEP) is a proven 11-year federal program helping schools keep and rebuild PE programs throughout the country. It is the only spending within the Department of Education budget for physical education and is vital to get kids moving.
Healthcare spending continues to rise at an alarming rate. Medical expenditures account for 17 percent of the money generated by the U.S. economy. The World Health Organization reported an investment of $1 in physical activity today leads to $3.20 in medical cost savings in the future. It’s never too early to begin taking charge of your children’s health and future.
A fit and active lifestyle is an important part of maintaining overall health. By encouraging healthy habits at a young age, parents can help children improve academic performance, build self-confidence and raise self-esteem. Getting our kids active is the first step in creating a healthier America.
More expert advice about Children's Health
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