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Kids Need Exercise too

Quick, in ten seconds or less, name the number one cause of stress. Smoking? No. Drugs and alcohol? Guess again. Divorce, aging or public speaking? Wrong. The most common cause of stress known is INACTIVITY… responsible for more disease and premature death than any other factor.

That’s right. Lying around like a slug kills people. It destroys the immune system, robs the body of vital capacity, and removes almost all of our motivation. The simple fact is that our bodies are meant to move, for without movement, there is no life. Our ability to move, to reproduce and to grow is what separates us from inanimate objects. No sign of life means no movement. No heartbeat, no respiration, no brain waves on the electroencephalograph.

Now I know what you sedentary types are thinking. You’re not dead. You get up every morning, get the kids ready for school, go to work, prepare meals, rush Suzy to the Dentist and Tyler to soccer practice. You mix with friends, go to movies, you even take the family to the park on the week-ends. All good stuff, but, and this is a big but, the actual quantity and quality of physical movement required to keep you in tip-top shape, simply isn’t there. This can easily be verified by a mirror and a simple fitness test.

Physical activity refers to any expenditure of energy brought about by bodily movement through the contraction of skeletal muscles. This includes a complete spectrum of activity ranging from very low resting levels to maximal exertion.

Exercise is a component of physical activity but,
it’s distinguishing characteristic is that it’s structured and specifically planned
to develop and maintain total physical fitness.

Besides being smaller and somewhat less confused about life, kids differ from adults in two ways. First, they laugh a lot more than we do. Their primary theme in life is to have fun, to explore and to play. Secondly, they are far more active than adults, who on a national average, seldom expend enough physical energy to compensate for their positive calorie intake. But times have changed. Children are conforming to the role models of their parents, spending less and less time building forts and chasing gophers. Instead, you might find them in front of a computer or glued to the TV set.

Not that computers are bad, or that TV is a write-off. They make great baby-sitters, provide excellent entertainment and can even be educational. But the sad truth is that long hours perched in front of the monitor or the big screen lends itself to a kind of physical stagnation. Especially TV. It definitely encourages overeating and the consumption of junk food. Since TV was introduced into Fiji just three short years ago, there has been a huge increase in the incidence of eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. TV and snacking also go hand-in-hand, just like cigarettes and coffee.

Forgive the analogy, but kids need to be walked and run just like Spike. Without exercise, dogs gets lazy and fat, and guess what, kids are no different. Today, children are 10lbs. heavier at the age of 10, than they were 10 years ago. Obesity is a modern plague. It’s much worse than aids, and far more common. Thousands in the US and Canada are HIV positive, but millions are dying from heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Excess body fat, caused by the synergy of poor nutrition and inactivity, increases the risk of every disease and leads to an early grave. The single best measure of a long life span is a trim waist line.

Keeping kids lean, fit and well nourished is a major accomplishment. Their health is more often a reflection of our own efforts and personal standards, than their genetics. If left to themselves, toddlers and pre-schoolers will seldom choose vegetables and whole grains. Instead, they will go for commercial cereals (breakfast candy), noodle soups, pizza pops and sweets. Inadequate nutrition affects children both mentally and physically. Without optimum amounts of essential micronutrients, young people become apathetic and lose enthusiasm. Vitamin supplements at this age of particular importance include: the essential fatty acids (especially omega-3), water and fat-soluble antioxidants, protein/fruit shakes and some form of friendly bifido-bacteria.

Encourage children to go outside as much as possible. Up to age 3 or 4, the best exercise is natural movement achieved through running, chasing, digging, climbing and playing at the park. Teach your child how to ride a bicycle. Introduce roller skates or a skate board. Of course basic lessons in safety and common sense are mandatory.

Swimming is excellent, although most public pools are too heavily chlorinated. Dance lessons and gymnastics teach coordination and emphasize stretching. Martial Arts have fine programs for children. As your son or daughter grows up and stronger, expose them to a wide variety of sports. Not all kids get into organized sports but, all kids should exercise daily. It’s no different and no less essential, than learning how to wipe your rear end.

I started weight-training at age 12. Contrary to popular belief, weightlifting does not stunt a child’s growth. With proper instruction and education, it builds discipline and supports underlying organ and skeletal development. Overcoming strength limitations in the gym teaches patience and improves self-confidence. It was my original love for team sports which sparked my interest in weight-training and then sports nutrition.

Young kids should concentrate on exercise technique, not on how big they can get. The bones of a young person are less dense than those of an adult, so heavy weights should be avoided. Also, children lack specialized anaerobic enzymes needed for muscle recovery after intense, hard workouts. They should train with less intensity and not push to “all out” maximum failure (although some kids mature much faster than others and possess definite genetic advantages).

Finally, in this scenario, “what is good for the gosling, is good for the goose and the gander”. For every reason a child should keep active and fit, the same applies to adults. If a child lives in a health conscious environment, there is a good chance that the child will be influenced in a positive way. Our thoughts must be directed towards a constructive and worthwhile end.

As parents, we are responsible for the welfare of our children and must guide them with the utmost of care and understanding. Children learn what they live and live what they learn. Their lives are a testimony to our commitment, and what more can any parent ask for, than to see their own children and grandchildren grow up in excellent health and achieve a rich and fulfilling lifestyle.