Sunday, March 15, 2020

Exercise for Kids

My favorite subject in elementary school (since lunch doesn't technically count) would have to be recess. I loved playing outside on the playground or in the gym as a little kid. It has been interesting to see how physical education has changed over the years. Many schools have reduced or even done away with PE classes for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons was safety. I remember our old playgrounds featured tall metal structures suspended high above hard asphalt surfaces. Some of the old school equipment, like spinning merry-go-rounds were the cause of many injuries as we tried to see just how many kids could get on and how fast we could make it go.  I found the picture below of some scary playground equipment from the early 1900's that would strike fear into any parent today.

Aside from the safety and liability issues, I think some educational administrators have forgotten how beneficial exercise and activity can be since it doesn't appear to fit in with their academic subjects they are emphasizing at school. Today there are many kids who can't concentrate in class. They are often simply labeled and medicated to fit in, but I'm sure many of them would perform much better if they had regular breaks to blow off some steam and switch gears every so often.

This week I was visiting Kenya. While we were driving to our lodging, we passed a large school. Our host offered to let us get a closer look since her kids attended there. As we drove up, we saw a couple hundred students outside on a huge dirt field doing their PE activities. They were so excited to be playing games, and you could feel their energy. There were a few home-made balls being thrown around but, aside from that, they had no equipment to speak of. The lack of equipment and facilities did not deter their play. They were playing tag, chasing, and participating in other group games.

I was shocked when I realized I could not see one kid who was even borderline chubby. I jokingly asked my host where they keep the fat kids and she said they have none. I understand there are many more factors influencing the body shape of a child aside from physical activity. Genetics, nutrition, socioeconomic factors, and culture all attribute to their thin builds. Most of them walk or run several miles to school every day. As we drove back home we saw many kids training for races running along the side of the road for miles. Several of them were barefoot and didn't seem to mind.

Contrast this type of activity to kids in the US who are very sedentary, spend a ton of time on social media and playing video games, and eat an abundance of surplus calories. It is no mystery why so many young kids today struggle with obesity. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 kids is obese in the United States and about 1 in 3 is overweight.

There are many things that contribute to a young person being in a healthy weight range, and physical activity is definitely one of them. Some of the ways we can help kids be more active include:

* Setting limits for how much time they spend watching TV or the computer.
* Encouraging them to participate in youth sports programs.
* Letting them walk or ride a bike instead of always driving them to nearby places.
* Setting a positive example for them by being an active parent. Actions speak louder than words.
* Spending more time outside with your kids, hiking, camping, at the park, etc.
* Encouraging them to try different physical activities until they find something they are passionate about. Once they find an activity they love, it is no longer a chore for them to be active.