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Help Your Child Be Physically Fit

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2002 24 Jul
Help Your Child Be Physically Fit
Watching television, playing video games, and surfing the Internet for hours each day plus a steady diet of fast food has given too many American kids flabby, illness-prone bodies. Now many children and teens are dealing with health problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure that used to primarily affect adults.

As a parent, your child's health is a major concern. But you may be frustrated if your child just doesn't seem interested in pursuing an active lifestyle. There is hope for helping your child shape up, though. Here are some ways you can help your child be physically fit:

  • Make physical fitness a priority in your own life so you can model a healthy lifestyle for your child. Realize that you must practice what you preach. Exercise both on your own and with your child on a regular basis.

  • Plan, prepare, and enjoy healthy meals and snacks at home together. Pack nutritious lunches for your child to take to school. Let your child help you shop and cook. Keep fast food restaurant visits to a minimum. Rather than entirely eliminating unhealthy foods such as French fries and ice cream, allow splurges every week or every other week. Know that your child -- and your whole family -- will adjust to better eating habits if you're committed to the change and if you discover healthy foods that also taste good.

  • Test your child's current physical fitness level before designing a fitness plan for him or her. Have a medical doctor give your child a thorough exam, then have him or her tested for: aerobic or endurance capacity, muscle strength and stamina, body fat percentage, flexibility, and degree of nutritional balance. Also study your child's physical and cognitive developmental level, which may be either ahead of or behind what is considered normal for your child's chronological age.

  • Be encouraged! Know that even if your child is far behind his or her peers, your child can catch up with enough support and consistent opportunities to exercise.

  • Allow your child to choose several different types of exercise that he or she enjoys, and also to help you choose regular fitness activities in which your whole family can participate together. Don't try to force a certain type of activity on your child; he or she will not stick with it if you do. Aim for daily physical activity of some type for about a half hour to an hour; vigorous, aerobic activity for a minimum of a half hour three to four days each week; flexibility exercise at least three days each week (preferably daily); and muscle strengthening and calisthenics two to three days each week. Keep track of your child's activity through a special calendar to monitor his or her progress.

  • Be creative! Think of ways that you can naturally incorporate activity into each day. Remember that not all fitness activities need to be highly organized, such as sports games. Even a neighborhood walk can be beneficial exercise.

  • Reward your child as he or she makes progress. Be sure to reward the process rather than the result; congratulating your child for effort such as by completing a certain number of exercise sessions rather than for achieving a competitive goal.

  • Encourage your child to participate in fitness activities with his or her peers, in ways such as playing in a community sports league or riding bikes with neighborhood friends. When possible, have your child lead or teach other children.

  • Take your child to professional or college sporting events and arrange meetings with athletes to help inspire your child.

Adapted from Fit Kids!: The Complete Shape-Up Program from Birth through High School, copyright 1999 by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., and Inkslingers, Inc. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.lifewaystores.com, 1-800-448-8032.

Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., is founder and president of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. He has written numerous best-selling books on physical fitness.

Do you think your child or children are currently physically fit? Why or why not? What challenges do you face when trying to exercise and eat a nutritious diet as a family? What rewards have you enjoyed from your fitness efforts? What encouragement would you like to offer others who would like their children to pursue greater physical fitness? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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