We here at dailymile are an active bunch.
We don’t generally need to read about the benefits of running, walking, swimming, climbing, hiking, biking, stretching, and weightlifting or any of the other physical activities we log daily. We intuitively know moving is good for us because we feel so great afterward.
Physically, we feel stronger. Psychologically, we’re more confident and alert. For kids, the benefits of physical activity are as sure and steady as they are for us adults.
Along with helping young children hone their cognitive function and motor development skills, being physically fit also boosts self-esteem and self-efficacy. A small sample of recent studies also suggest that regular aerobic exercise improves intelligence and math skills; sharpens attention span; assists with managing asthma; and helps overweight kids get a better handle on expressing anger.
All these pluses, and yet we are as sedentary as a society as ever.
Last year, the president received a special task force report on childhood obesity and the physical fitness level of American kids today. If you’re a parent who values the health of your child, a clip from it should stop you dead in your tracks:
Fewer than one in five high school students meet the current recommendations of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, and a recent study showed that adolescents now spend more than seven hours per day watching television, DVDs, movies, or using a computer or a mobile device like a cell phone or MP3 player. Older adolescents are less likely than younger children to be physically active, and adolescent girls are less likely to be physically active than their male peers. African-American and
Hispanic adolescent girls are the least likely to be physically active.
The report went on to state that, among other things:
- 30% of U.S. children ages 2-19 is overweight or obese
- 1/3 born in 2000 is expected to get adult diabetes
- 13% of daily calories for kids 12-19 comes from sugar-sweetened drinks
- 1/4 of 17-24 year-olds is unqualified for military service due to their weight
Increasingly, studies reveal that our daily food choices and activity levels are the key culprits for the rise in obesity. Why is this important for parents to come to grips with?
Lifestyle-related disease takes time to develop, yet often is rooted in the healthy or unhealthy habits we first put into play early in our lifespan. By our late teens, for example, hardening of the arteries may already begin – a possible future stroke or heart attack in the making. And osteoporosis is directly tied to the bone-building going on in our youth, when old age and broken limbs and hips are the furthest thing from our minds.
So, the younger we can begin to get fit and stay motivated to keep at it, the better.
National initiatives like First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s move!” campaign to reduce childhood obesity and raise a healthier generation of kids are valuable nudges in the right direction.
States are increasingly getting with the program, too.
Once standard fare at schools across the country, over the past decade myriad news reports show that mandatory physical education classes and even elementary school recess has been cut in districts far and wide due to tight budgets and a focus on standardized-testing.
Today, only five states (Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont) require K-12 gym class on a student’s schedule. Fortunately, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), in its updated 2010 Shape of the Nation report, found a slight improvement in the number of states requiring PE and student assessment in PE since its last study four years earlier. But, before exchanging our high fives, the group also cautioned that “more states now allow waivers and exemptions from PE classes (77% increase) and no progress has been made in providing daily physical education in all grades K-12.”
But, improvement efforts are underway.
For instance, Virginia’s House of Delegates is currently debating SB966, a bill that would demand schools offer 150 minutes of weekly physical education to each of its students. Only 9 percent of the state’s schools do so today.
Meanwhile, North Carolina has started rolling out its in-school Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) program, hoping to undo unhealthy habits that place their students at an increased risk for future cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
With a brilliantly hip attitude and approach, spoken word artist and teacher Taylor Mali nails the issues schools are facing today in his animated poem, “An Apple a Day is Not Enough:”
As necessary as all of the national, state and local efforts are in urging us to get healthy as a nation, as Mali rapped so eloquently: Good health starts at home.
The president’s task force report agrees, pointing to a survey of active adult Americans who exercise in some form outdoors: 90 percent said they first began the sport or activity between the ages of five and 18. Likely, they were positively affected by the attitudes and behaviors of parents or other family members.
Indeed, a 2009 Health Psychology journal study by Baylor College of Medicine and Duke University researchers reported that parents who liked sports had kids who were more likely to follow suit. Bonus: These kids also spent less time surfing the Net or watching TV, and were more physically active than their peers.
As only 60 percent of American adults regularly exercise (and a whopping 25 percent don’t get any at all), next week we’ll tap into a few members of the energetic dailymile community to get their take. They’ll also answer the question that continues popping up in the news: Should Children Run Marathons?
White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President
NASPE 2010 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA
Alliance for a Healthier Generation