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Exercise - Kid-style

By Rallie McAllister

Although it may seem that childhood is a carefree time for running, jumping, and playing, kids are becoming less active with each generation. Thanks to the lure of high-tech sedentary pursuits, most kids spend twice as much time vegged out in front of television sets or plugged into video games as they do exercising.

According to the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, nearly half of U.S. youngsters between the ages of twelve and twenty-one aren't regularly active. Once children enter adolescence, exercise drops off dramatically, especially in girls. More often than not, this pattern of inactivity accompanies kids into adulthood.

Unfortunately, parents can't always count on school systems to provide a solution to the problem of inactivity in children. Just over a third of U.S. elementary and secondary schools offer daily phys ed classes. High school enrollment in gym class continues to decline with each passing year. Now more than ever, it's up to moms and dads to promote exercise and activity in their children.

Physical activity is frequently recommended to promote weight loss, but it has much more to offer. Exercise in children has been shown to have positive, lasting effects on bone development, ultimately protecting kids from fractures and even osteoporosis.

While cardiovascular disease may not show up until adulthood, risk factors can begin to appear in childhood or adolescence, and they tend to worsen throughout life. Kids who exercise show significant improvements in cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings. As a bonus, teens that engage in regular fitness activities are less likely to resort to behaviors that can damage their hearts, such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

In addition to promoting physical health, exercise has an extremely positive effect on the emotional well being of children. Kids who exercise have lower rates of depression and anxiety, and they're able to cope with life's inevitable stressors more effectively than their sedentary counterparts. Children who engage in fitness-promoting activities typically have high levels of self-confidence, as well as the happiness that comes with greater self-esteem.

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One of the best ways to motivate your kids to participate in fitness activities is to get involved. Parental support is one of the most important factors in the child-fitness equation. The more interest you show in your child's fitness efforts, the more likely she is to remain physically active.

Whether your child is athletically gifted or not, she needs your support in the activities she chooses. A child who is encouraged to exercise in positive ways is likely to continue to exercise as she matures. Kids who are forced to exercise in ways that they don't enjoy are significantly less likely to exercise when they reach adulthood.

Parents should give their kids a variety of choices of activities, sports, and physical education classes. You can also promote fitness in your children by making it a part of your family's everyday life. It may take a little extra work to find fun fitness activities that the entire family can enjoy together, but your efforts will pay off for everyone.

Exercise Made Easy

Make an exercise schedule. Exercise doesn't have to involve a rigid routine, but it's a good idea to schedule a regular time for exercise each day. You and your kids will be more likely to get up and get moving if you've set aside a specific time for physical activity.

Plan weekends and days off around fitness fun. Go for a bike ride, take a hike along nature trails, or pack a picnic lunch and a Frisbee and head for the park.

Make use of community resources. When it comes to finding fitness opportunities, take advantage of what your community has to offer. Join the local YMCA or sign up for tennis lessons through your Parks and Recreation Department. Look for water aerobics classes and golf lessons at local swimming pools and golf courses.

Get the neighborhood involved. Organize neighborhood fitness activities for children and their parents. Softball games, soccer matches, and jump rope contests are fun for kids and adults.

Dance! Children of all ages love to dance. Crank up the music, show your kids the dances that were popular when you were a teen, and let them teach you their favorite dance moves.

Put the children in charge. Let your kids take turns being the fitness director for your family. They'll have more fun when they're allowed to choose the activity, and they'll enjoy putting parents through their paces.

© Rallie McAllister
Rallie McAllister, MD, the author of "Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim (LifeLine Press, September 2003)", runs a family practice specializing in nutrition, wellness, and weight loss called Healthy Solutions, in Kingsport, Tennessee. Dr. McAllister is the creator and popular host of Rallie On Health, a health magazine TV show with over 1 million viewers in the five-state area of eastern Tennessee. Millions across the country also know her for her weekly nationally syndicated column called "Your Health by Dr. Rallie McAllister." Dr. McAllister lives with her husband and three children in Kingsport, Tennessee. Visit Rallie at


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