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You've probably seen the news stories. Many children today just aren't getting the exercise they need to stay fit. The Department of Agriculture calls it "a national epidemic of overweight and obese children." (Read about "Childhood Weight Issues")
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), over a third of American children show at least one heart disease risk factor. (Read about "Heart Risks") And that can cause problems that extend beyond childhood. Inactive children can turn into inactive adults, which can make them more likely to develop any number of health problems such as obesity or heart disease. (Read about "Obesity" "Coronary Heart Disease")
But the reverse is true too; according to ACE, physically active children are more likely to stay that way as they get older. Children have different needs and abilities, of course, but for many children, physical activity can also lead to fewer chronic health problems and can give children more self-confidence too.
Variety can be important. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says sports can have a very positive effect on children, but recommends that child athletes be discouraged from specializing in one sport at an early age. According to AAP, especially before adolescence, children should participate in a variety of sports with rest periods during the year.
Of course, nagging children to exercise can sometimes have the opposite effect, so what's a parent to do? One way to encourage children to be more active is to set a good example.
Making exercise a family activity can have physical and social benefits for everyone. Some suggestions from ACE for making exercise a part of everyday family life:
Of course, if you do get the whole family involved, it's also important to avoid overdoing things. If you're a parent and it's been awhile since you got much exercise yourself, use common sense before trying something new and check with a doctor when appropriate. (Read about "Getting Started")
Another precaution that's a good idea for the whole family is sun protection. Children who spend so much of their time playing outdoors are at particular risk. Even on cloudy days, sun protection is essential to avoid skin damage. (Read about "Children and Sun")
When promoting fitness for children, it's also important to realize that children are individuals; what one sibling adapts to, may not be appropriate for another child. Some children enjoy team sports; others dislike regulated events. It can be a good idea to encourage children to explore a wide variety of different types of activities. But it's also important to find out what each individual child enjoys most and to encourage them to stick with it.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says parents should also work with their children to help them develop a sense of good sportsmanship. AACAP says parents can do this by attending their children's games, by having realistic expectations, by demonstrating respectful behavior towards other teams, as well as coaches, referees and umpires, and by letting children know that sometimes losing and disappointment are just a part of the game.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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