“Excuse me, can I sit at this table instead of the desk?” asked a second grade student. I look up and notice that this seven year old boy would not be able to fit in this old school connecting desk and needs his own table and chair. I was shocked and asked myself, how can this happen? In the past ten years childhood obesity has increased by 35%! This. Is. Terrifying! With the all the new electronic gadgets and physical education classes on the decline, it is a constant battle trying to get kids to be active. However, at Naperville Central High School in Illinois, where they have PE classes before school (“Zero Hour PE”), the obesity rate of children decreased to 3% compared to 30% nationwide. This got me excited.
Adults should be taking more responsibility for what is happening to our kids. We know that sugar is addictive and causes many health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, yet we continue to give sweets as rewards. My reward as a child was “Flinstone Vitamins”. YUMMY! I liked them so much I was often busted for taking more than one! For children, eating candy can be just as addictive as alcohol can be for adults and can have the same effect on the liver. I have worked in the public school setting for years and have seen main courses such as nachos, pizza, french toast, and even funnel cakes! Parents are their children’s primary role models. Teaching children simple phrases such as “eating sugar = bad” or “eating a variety of colors = good” is a great start.
Like nutrition, exercising is important for children, but when do you start? The answer is immediately! Exercising while pregnant has numerous benefits to the baby. When mothers exercise during pregnancy, the children are more responsive to light and sound, more easily calmed, learn at a faster rate and have almost double the amount of cells in the hippocampus (memory area of the brain). Staying active stabilizes the production of estrogen and progesterone, thus improving the mother’s mood, anxiety and stress. These results reduce the chance of miscarriage, birth defects, and deaths among babies.
Babies naturally have their own progression to fitness. They begin holding up their heads, rolling, crawling, and eventually walking and running. At this point, it is time to start introducing more complex exercises such as skipping, jumping and agility work. These impact loading drills will dramatically increase their bone density as adults and ultimately reduce the chances of getting osteoporosis later in life. Every 5% increase in bone mass as a child will result in a 30% reduction in hip fractures. This is HUGE!
As children grow older and enter school, they are asked to sit still, stay quiet and pay attention for an excruciating 6+ hours. I don’t know many adults that can do this, I can’t! Most doctors prescribe the easy fix for everything – medicine. Ritalin prescriptions have more than doubled since 1990 and have unwanted side effects. A healthier and more long term remedy for ADHD is exercise. Activity among children is proven to release chemicals or endorphins in the brain that have the same, if not better, effect as drugs. Exercise not only helps ADHD, but also improves anxiety, depression, stress, addiction, insomnia and much more, including reduction in aggressive behavior. At the “Zero Hour PE” school violent incidents decreased from 228 the year before to 95. Do you remember how difficult it was to get through just one day of Middle School? Imagine if we knew that we could improve our self-esteem, our mood, control our hormones and actually pay attention during class after just one workout. Drama-free Middle School….WHAT!?
During development, kids’ brains can easily be molded and refined. Exercise creates efficient connections, solidifies memories, and increases the rate at which we learn. One of the most fascinating statistics I learned was that your hippocampus is not only retaining up to 30% more information after a workout, but it physically grows in size! Now students can take in more information faster and actually retain it. After implementing their “Zero Hour PE” at Naperville Central High School, students’ test scores at the end of one semester increased 17% in reading comprehension and 18% in math! This is so much more fun than staying after school for extra help!
As we get older we play less. Not cool. What happened to the love for the outdoors? Hearing your name called when the street lamps came on? KIDS watch….they mimic everything we do. I remember going to my mother’s volleyball games as a child and thinking “I want to become a setter too!”. The next year we were on the same community team. I was lucky because I was introduced to almost every sport and was able to find my niche. Help your kids become “lucky”. Nothing is more important than seeing your kids become healthy adults. Make a change.