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Children's Fitness 101
By Christina Chapan
More and more children are getting obese. The amount of excessively overweight children has doubled in the last twenty years. Twenty years ago, only 5% of all children were obese. Today over 15% fall into that category. Statistics indicate that 30% of all American children are overweight and 15% are obese. Studies estimate that one in five children are obese and that the 64% of the world's total population is overweight. Twenty-five percent of all pets are overweight. In Arkansas, one in four children are obese. Over 10% percent of preschool children between ages two and five in America are overweight. Research has also found lowered self-esteem in children as young as five who are overweight. Studies show that children with obesity in their preteens will have a 70% percent chance of being obese in their adult years.
There are 83 McDonald's in the island of Manhattan alone, and on the average in large cities one every quarter mile. Fast food restaurants are everywhere, including hospitals, schools, and discount superstores. Advertisers spend billions of dollars on food ads contributing to obesity. Some of the leading risk factors of coronary heart disease include high blood fats, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, and lack of exercise. These factors are caused by excessive caloric intake and lack of activity.
High blood fats are caused by the increase and over-consumption of saturated fat. Parents must limit their children's diet to less than 25% fat and only 10% saturated fat. A poor diet and excessive weight gain causes obesity. Children must have regulated healthy diets to maintain a healthy weight. Parents can also help with overeating by resigning themselves and their children from the clean plate club; let children fill their plates themselves. Prohibit them from eating snacks from bags; instead have them put snacks into a small plate or bowl. Excess calories can be eliminated by teaching children to have smaller portions and limit their second servings of meal helpings.
Type 2 Diabetes, once considered a disorder for overweight adults, is now a major factor in children's medical problems. Cheap fat, refined carbohydrates and processed foods cause children to develop problems with their livers, pancreas, and digestive systems quite early. Some parents have reported elimination of their child's undesirable behavior, Asperger's syndrome, and ADHD with the removal of unhealthy foods. Last of all obesity has soared with the excessive availability of poor food choices in lunches and cafeterias in the country. Some school cafeterias' selections gross over 1,000 calories for one meal. This is ridiculous considering that the average daily caloric intake for an elementary child should be at about 1800-2000.
Children are also more sedentary now than ever before. By the age of seventeen, a child has spent 38% more time in front of the television than in school. Instead of running on the playground, they play computer games, and they prefer to stay inside and watch television to doing activities outside. Children are not getting enough physical activity. Studies show that children need 30 to 60 minutes of activity most days of the week. Physical Education classes typically only allow children to be vigorously exercising three minutes a day. In 1969, 80% of all children played sports. Today only 20% of all children regularly participate in sports.
Parents can reverse the curse of inactivity by limiting television time, taking a family walk, and spending time playing at the local recreational center or park district. Parents should walk as much as possible and encourage their children to do so as well. A side benefit will result in improved communication time walking with other family members. A successful parent must live a consistent lifestyle by eating healthy, limiting their visits to fast food restaurants, and exercising regularly. By doing that, you are helping children avoid the diseases and health problems of the present and preparing them for a healthy future.
Sports for a Lifetime
Sports are a wonderful opportunity to teach children valuable skills that will last a lifetime. All adults involved in a child's life need to have the proper athletic perspective. They must be sensitive to why a child is interested in playing sports. Does the child want to compete or just have fun and social community with others?
Next, parents should consider a child's interest and abilities. Does the child have a natural ability in a specific athletic area or an interest? In both cases, an adult working with the child must not discourage those desires and abilities. Specialization of sports should not occur until high school.
What activities are developmentally appropriate for the child? Sports are divided in three basics types. Complex movement sports are organized games such as hockey, football, or basketball. Technically oriented activities include gymnastics, cheerleading or tumbling. Fitness-oriented sports include running and strength training. Never force but gently steer the child that you are working with to the area which suits them best. Coaches, parents, and personal trainers must always insist on proper form and technique. If a child learns the proper methods for accomplishing the sport, they will have fewer injuries and more practice time to improve in their sport.
Safety should be another factor in playing sports. Developmentally, the child should be ready to start the sport and have the emotional stability to complete the fitness task. Sports are a wonderful opportunity to teach good mental, physical, and social habits that will last for a lifetime.
Lifetime Fitness for the Young Child
Every adult in a child's life has the possibility to make a positive difference in that young person's life. This positive influence can be felt in a variety of ways. Most important, make sports and fitness activities fun. Specialization of sports should not begin until adolescence. Allow a child to have the opportunity to try as many kinds of athletic activities as he or she shows an interest. Keep the environment of fitness safe and exciting. Find out the reason for the child's desire to be involved in the activity. Is it to play with his or her friends or to develop in a particular sport or activity? Winning should not be the result of competing in sports. There should be more focus on skill development rather than on perfect performance.
Teaching children proper form is also essential. It is more important to do a skill a few times correctly than to have incorrect form for many repetitions. Take small steps in order to achieve success. Every child should have an opportunity to play in every game. Children should have a chance to take lessons and perfect skills such as throwing, catching, and hitting. This can be in a session with an experienced coach or trainer in a private or group session just a few times a week.
Be understanding of other events happening in a child's life. Overtraining is inevitable with the forced pressure of homework, other social commitments, and sports. Helping children not burn out on an activity will provide them with a love of sports and fitness in the future.
Kids' Sports Injuries 101
There are general guidelines about when to call a doctor for a sport or exercise injury. I will first discuss guidelines to waiting and seeing if the injury needs medical attention. Secondly, I will discuss how to talk to children about waiting and listening to their body. Lastly, I will outline injuries that require a prompt doctor's visit.
Minor injuries of the muscles and joints do not generally require a visit to the doctor. Pains from minor injuries caused by generally resolve themselves after initial rest, stretching, and then systematically strengthening. If the pain does not disappear in a couple of weeks, generally it is recommended that the child should go to a doctor. It is essential to teach children what delay onset muscle soreness is and what it feels like. Educate them so they understand what is happening in their muscular systems. A student should learn to wait and see how the injury feels. Listening to their body is an effective way to know if the pain warrants a visit to the physician. The child should learn the difference between discomfort and pain beyond tolerance. If the pain is severe, prompt attention to the doctor is necessary.
Visits to the doctor that should have immediate attention include injuries to the head and eyes, an injury that is accompanied by swelling, broken bones, and an injury caused by sudden force. Chest pains, fainting, and heat intolerances should also be promptly tended. In general, it is better to play it safe than risk a student with a serious injury. Ignoring pain may lead to a longer recovery at best but could also be a lifetime of discomfort and a lack of function if left untreated.
Readiness for Motor Skills
Motor skills are developed in different stages for various children. It is essential that each child learn the major movement activities in order to have a life-long appreciation of fitness. During early childhood, there should be an opportunity to work on walking, balancing, throwing, and catching.
Children should have trial and error experiences as well as beginning drills and the integration of skills in specific sport games. Skills are learned by body through mind learning. Emphasis should be on imitation and games that cause children to assume proper movement patterns. Proper form must be shown through fun games and activities.
If a child has not mastered a motor skill considered basic for his age, there must be some remediation in that area. Children should have an opportunity to systematically develop basic movement and perception skills. When the child arrives into intermediate elementary grades, there should be more emphasis on structured games and sports. In elementary grades, the fundamental skills are developed and there should be less focus on the specialization of skills until they reach the teens. If a child has the opportunity to learn motor skills in small sections step-by-step, it will ensure that they will have success in the future.
Motor Skill Development Basics
It is essential that children have early movement exploration programs in order to develop normally and completely into successful athletes as adults. Early training in perceptual motor learning must include total involvement in the environment. Infants can track an object held close to them by moving their entire body. Later this tracking develops tracking in a variety of directions, a skill that is essential in preparation for catching and throwing a ball. Holding a baby in various positions is also important. This causes effective kinesthetic skills as you hold and carry the baby in different positions.
Propriception can be developed in the pool. Putting an infant partially in the water will stimulate movement and improve perception. Infants have natural swimming abilities until they are about a quarter of a year old. Reinforcing this skill early will ensure that the reflex will not disappear and fear of the water later will diminish.
It is also important to use exercises to develop hand and eye coordination. Suspend an object near the baby and have them come into contact with it by chance. Practice with the baby until he reaches for the items purposely. Then put the object in different directions and use noises to draw the baby's attention to it. This is also a great test to see if the baby might be suffering from any hearing difficulties. Lastly, it is essential to put the baby in variety of positions. Have the baby on their belly as well as on their back. Combine activities with visual and grasping abilities. Children should also have social opportunities to be exposed to a variety of people. Structured motor programs after the three months are effective to socialization.
Motor development during childhood is also important and there should be many trial and error experiences. Learning by example is important. It is essential to demonstrate the skill and have them practice the skill in perfect form. Lastly, it is important that any skills that a child has missed during their early life be made up and extra practice geared to working on that skill.
Basics for a Good Elementary Fitness Program
Children in an elementary school fitness program should learn to love physical activities, develop basic motor and perceptual abilities. There should be an emphasis on balance, body and space awareness, hand/eye coordination, and running skills. Specialization of skills should be saved for the junior high elementary program.
A good program should involve personalization for each child. A child who is slow or handicapped should receive the same attention as a gifted athlete. Children should learn to love physical education and see the importance of adding it to their daily routine.
Children must learn to master running, jumping, throwing, and catching.
Proper form must be emphasized and systematically taught. Children should have
opportunities to work on their perceptual-motor abilities and overcome any
perceptual motor deficiencies. Children need to learn the rules and basics for
sports and specific instruction to work on the general skills needed for that
sport. Sports should be taught for a lifetime.
It is important for children to have a positive image of their bodies and learn how to perform in any given sport. Children need to set their own expectations and not rely on others to set expectations for them. Having these traits in elementary school physical education program will promote positive experiences for the learner in later life.
Baylor College of Medicine.
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Fahley, Thomas D.Youth Fitness Trainer, Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports and Sciences Association, 2003.
Health: Kids' Obesity may be Worse Than Thought.
Overcoming Obesity in America: A Special Report from Time, Time Magazine. June 7, 2004.
One Obesity Remedy: Get Out and Play.
Parents Hope Diet Might Help Kids' Behavior.
Supersize Me Movie Site.
Welcome to Operation Fit Kids!
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Christina Chapan is an ACE certified personal trainer, ISSA Youth Fitness Trainer, SCW, Sports Nutrition, fitness author, conference speaker and elementary school teacher. She also works in the after school care program at her school. If you are interested in learning more about Christina, please visit her website:
Fit 4 Fun Kids' Fitness
The above guest article was posted on this site January 7, 2005.
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