YOU Magazine - June 2010 - Summer Fun...And Fitness! Ways and Reasons to Keep Children Active
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James Sahnger     James Sahnger
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Summer Fun...And Fitness!
Ways and Reasons to Keep Children Active

Summer Fun...And Fitness! - Ways  and Reasons  to Keep Children Active

Kids dream of summer. They dream of school ending. They dream of staying up late and sleeping in. But they also dream of video games and television.

In fact, on average, children spend nearly 3 hours out of every day watching TV. And that's just an average. When school ends and they have more time in the day, that temptation increases. An even more alarming statistic is that only half of kids between ages 12 and 21 exercise regularly.

Now that the regular exercise of gym class has been removed from your child's weekly schedule, it's even more important that you incorporate exercise at home. And summer is the ideal time to start an exercise routine that the whole family can enjoy and take part in.

As families across the country get ready to head into the lazy days of summer, the information below can help keep your children – and family – happy, healthy and active.

Physical Benefits of Exercise
We all know that kids can benefit from exercise, but what specifically does it do for them? The answer may be more than you expect. Regular exercise can help kids:

  • Control weight and body fat
  • Build healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • Increase strength and endurance
  • Reduce the risk of high-blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease later in life
  • Fall asleep quickly and sleep better
  • Improve appearance

Mental Benefits of Exercise
In addition to the physical aspects, exercise can have a number of positive mental and emotional benefits for children, including:

  • Reducing anxiety, tension and pessimism
  • Increasing confidence and self-esteem
  • Having a more positive outlook on life
  • Better handling of the emotional and physical challenges in life
  • Fostering teamwork, leadership and friendships

Three Elements of Fitness
Basically, there are three elements to physical fitness and exercise:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility

Often, strength training is thought of in terms of weight lifting, but that's not the only way to help build strength. Children can improve their strength through a variety of exercises, such as push-ups, crunches, pull-ups and more. More importantly, children can get the same strength benefits from everyday games and activities that incorporate these types of exercises into play. For example, climbing trees works many of the same muscles as pull-ups. Handstands, wrestling games, monkey bars and more can provide valuable – but fun – ways to strengthen muscles and joints.

Endurance is also a key element. While strength training builds strong muscles, endurance helps strengthen the heart and improves the flow of oxygen into cells. The best way to improve endurance is to take part in regular aerobic exercise. The good news – that can be accomplished in a number of ways. Jogging, biking and walking are just some ideas. Children can also improve endurance by dancing, jumping rope, playing tag, skateboarding, inline skating and so on. Any activity that gets children moving – that gets their hearts beating faster and their breathing flowing harder – can help children improve their endurance.

The third and final aspect is flexibility, which helps muscles and joints move in a full-range of motion comfortably and easily. Obviously, stretching is an important element in improving flexibility. But, once again, children can get the same benefits through a variety of fun, everyday activities, such as practicing doing splits, reaching to grab something, doing cartwheels and so on.

The bottom line is that parents can help children achieve a balance between the three aspects by varying activities and being creative with fun ways to keep children engaged and positive about exercise.

5 Ways Parents Can Help
Children rely on their parents for a lot of things…and exercise is no different. Although children ultimately have to get up and get active, parents and older siblings can take a number of steps to encourage physical fitness, including:

  1. Finding fun activities that keep exercise exciting, interesting and appropriate for each child's age.

  2. Providing toys and safety equipment that encourage exercise, such as jump ropes, hula-hoops or inline skates with the proper safety equipment.

  3. Encouraging consistency by planning contests between children and adults, working exercises into weekday and weekend schedules.

  4. Helping children establish goals, chart their progress and celebrate achievements. Those three aspects will go a long way to helping children gain a sense of accomplishment and confidence, while also motivating children to continue the activity.

  5. Modeling physical fitness for your children. After all, studies show that children are more likely to be physically active if they see their parents and role models engage in regular physical exercise. So make a point of not just planning physical activities and games for your children, but to jump in and take part yourself.

11 Ideas You Can Do Today
Not sure what exercises to try out this summer? Here's a list of 11 ideas to get you started:

1. Swim. Water naturally goes with the summer months. After all, summer is hot, and the water is cool. But instead of just taking your children to a pool, beach or lake to watch them splash around, encourage them to race one another or to try to beat their own time as they swim a specific distance. You can even get additional children and parents from the neighborhood involved to form a swim club – so children will be engaged with their friends, while parents can take turns car-pooling the children.

2. Walk or jog. Yep, it's that simple. Walk the dog every morning. Jog with a parent every evening. Walk or run in a charity event. The point is to get children involved in regularly moving their bodies.

3. Play soccer. Talk about improving your endurance! Soccer is a great way to help children build friendships, learn teamwork, increase confidence and just plain have fun during summer. And, it's inexpensive—all you need is a patch of grass and a ball.

4. Bike. Kids love to bike. So why not encourage it? Parents can get children out and exercising by biking for fun or even biking to the store. In addition to exercise, children can learn safety lessons and the rules of the road. Not to mention that it's a great way for parents and children to spend dedicated time talking and laughing.

5. Shoot hoops. Basketball is another inexpensive sport that provides children with the opportunity to work on endurance, teamwork and friendships. Chances are there's a park near you with some hoops that you can easily drive to…or better yet, bike or walk to…a few times a week. Parents can get involved in a full-court competition with the neighborhood kids or just a fun one-on-one game of HORSE.

6. Mow the yard. If you have older children or pre-teens, you can teach them responsibility while encouraging exercise by hiring them to mow the yard every week during the summer.

7. Just dance. It doesn't matter what kind of music or dancing style you're into, moving your body is great exercise…and it's fun! Parents and kids can even dance together to teach each other their favorite moves and share their favorite songs. It's a great way to bond with children while staying healthy and fit.

8. Jump rope. It's easy to do, inexpensive, fun and a great workout. Better still, children can jump rope by themselves or in groups. And it's a great way to improve stamina and coordination.

9. Skate. Inline skating is fun for children and adults alike. Make sure you wear the proper safety equipment and model safe practices near roads. Of course, if you're looking to cool off this summer, you can look for indoor skating rinks in your area. Ice-skating, figure skating and hockey camps are actually more popular during the summer than most people think. Or you could just have fun, cool off and exercise during an open ice session. And if you've never skated on ice, the hot summer months are the perfect time to try it. At most rinks, you don't even need to own your own skates because they rent out hockey or figure skates. So grab the phonebook, call around and then hit the ice this summer.

10. Join a marching band. If you or your children are interested in music or already play an instrument, a marching band is an ideal activity. It helps promote music reading, which can help with math skills and improve confidence. In addition, some instruments help improve lung functions through breathing techniques. Add that to the marching practice and parades, and you have the recipe for a fun workout!

11. Make an obstacle course. Obstacle courses are a great way to work every aspect of physical fitness. They can improve strength by adding climbing obstacles. They can increase endurance by adding in running and jump roping aspects. And they can even benefit flexibility by adding in stages where children have to reach for items or touch their toes a certain number of times before proceeding to the next stage. And the best part is, you can switch the course up to keep children from getting bored or to include children of different ages and capabilities. So gather up some items from around the house and get your children's creative minds working on an obstacle course in your yard.

Get Started
These are just some ideas to get you started. The important thing isn't what you do… it's that you DO something. So sit down with your children, talk about what activities they'd like to do, make a plan and then get started. And don’t forget to keep it fun to encourage consistency!

Have a safe, healthy and fun summer!

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