“When we were kids, I remember my mother chasing us out of the house telling us to play outdoors in minus 20 degree weather saying the fresh cold air would do us some good. She didn’t want us staying indoors even if it was blowing snow outside.”
This comment came from a Canadian who grew up in one of the coldest parts of Canada – Quebec – where temperatures could go down to minus 30 and 40 during the peak winter months. Indeed, his outdoor activities during his growing up years reflect his tip-top shape and robust health. Today he’s 70 and still bikes and skis in temperatures that we ordinary mortals would rather shun in favor of a good book with our feet curled up near the fireplace.
The idea of being physically active begins in the embryonic stages. Okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration as we know very well know that a fetus can’t possibly exercise inside a woman’s womb. But as soon as youngsters can walk and run and jump all over the sofa and the rest of the furniture, they should be encouraged to channel energies elsewhere – like in sports and exercises.
Awhile ago, the Bush administration expressed serious concerns about America being a country of obese adults and children. If obesity can hit kids, then there is no reason why exercise should not be incorporated into their lifestyle as soon as they reach age 2. Schools have a responsibility to develop a keen awareness among school children about the need to engage in exercise. Too many kids, buoyed and spoiled by internet and mobile phone technologies, have become “closet skeletons” in the sense that interest in the traditional ways of spending the growing up years outdoors has waned significantly. Not enough time to watch the video games and the entertainment packages they’ve downloaded.
Not enough time, therefore, to squeeze in a badminton or tennis game with the kids in the neighborhood.
Fighting the fat battle is most effective when the fighting begins early. As the American Academy of Pediatrics reports, increasing daily physical activity from infancy through the teen years helps keep the fat at bay. Teachers are encouraged to ask young students to get sufficient amounts of exercise and fresh air to help them in their academic tasks. The Academy further recommends that children under age 2 must not be allowed to watch television for more than two hours a day.
A child’s peak growth begins at a very young age and continues until his mid-20s. This is one reason why schools must incorporate daily exercise programs from prep-school to high-school into their curricula, calling for the participation of all school children, including those who are disabled. This is the time when bones and muscles begin to develop, and healthy muscles and bones are important for optimal health. Children who are obese or close to being obese must be pushed to engage in certain sports – swimming and strength training are only two examples.
Still not convinced that even young children need to exercise? Just read what the government reported about how many American children are overweight: one-third! Of that number, 17% are obese.
Families, schools and peer groups can play a significant role in helping their youngsters appreciate the value of a good exercise program. Not only will their physical health benefit, but also their sense of team spirit and the mental discipline required to meet the rigorous challenges of a particular sport. And the sooner we start these kids in these healthy habits, the better it will be for the nation as a whole.
There are of course kids who detest any kind of sport. Don’t despair as there’s hope even for these children. Take them out into the street or in a park somewhere and tell them to start walking. Give them a small reward if they add a few feet daily to their usual distance until they get accustomed to this practice.