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HEALTHY LIVING: Growing healthy children

Today we are focusing on the physically fit part of healthy living for children.  No pain, no gain. Target heart rate. Pumping up. These are all expressions we relate to fitness for adults. But do the same terms apply to young children? Why should physical fitness be a concern during the early childhood years? Don’t young children get all the activity they need naturally by being children? Certainly, they are active enough to be physically fit?  Well, you would think so.

Unfortunately, the statistics suggest otherwise. On average, children ages two to five spend about 25 ½ hours a week watching television (during a year, this is as much time as children spend is school), and this number doesn’t include time spent playing video games or working with computers. Everywhere you look today’s generation of youth is glued to their gadgets. They’re texting their friends (often who are even in the same room!), posting pictures on their social media medium of choice, or playing the latest game to hit the shelves. It’s time we unplug our youth and get them engaged in physical exercise and healthy eating before they become another statistic.

Some studies show up to 50 percent of children in America are not getting enough exercise.  Research also indicates that:

40 percent of five- to eight-year-olds show at least one heart disease risk factor, including elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity;

The first signs of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are appearing at about age five; and

The number of overweight children has doubled in the last decade.

In the past, heart disease risk factors were rarely seen in anyone under the age of 30. Of equal significance are the facts that obese children tend to become obese adults, and that children with high blood pressure are likely to become adults with high blood pressure. All of this indicates that “just being a kid” is not what is used to be and is no longer enough to keep individuals healthy.

Whew!  That is the bad news.  Since scare tactics are not always the best means of motivation, here’s the good news regarding physical fitness:

Children who are physically active and experience success in movement activities show higher levels of self-esteem and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Physical activity helps children get through the day without fatigue and makes them more alert.

Fit children are more likely to participate in sports, dance, games, and other physical activities that improve muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio-respiratory endurance, and body composition.

Many health problems are preventable. With an estimated 250,000 deaths a year in the United States caused by low levels of activity and fitness, the solution appears to be as simple as getting up and moving! Although there is currently little research suggesting that childhood physical activity affects childhood health, it is believed that individuals who are physically active as children are likely to remain physically active as adults. Therefore, physical activity in childhood may indeed have an effect on adult health.

The key to physical activity in early childhood is enjoyment. For adults, success might be defined in terms of an extra lap run around the track, an extra ten pounds lifted, or getting through an extra 15 minutes of aerobics. For a preschooler, success in any activity is simply a matter of how much fun it is!  So, get out there and play with your kids, it is time well spent.  Consider it an investment in their healthy future and yours.  Stay healthy, my friends.

Contact Jody Holton with your questions, comments, or suggestions for future columns at jholton3@gt.rr.com