I was raised by a father who was passionate about tennis, and a mother who taught aerobic dancing. To me, there was no question that being active was fun. I was raised in a time without Xbox and Wii, without mobile phones and iPads — a time when kids had to devise creative activities without the assistance of digital devices.
Times have certainly changed, and, of course, with the advent of these many forms of sedentary entertainment, there is a huge rise in childhood obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity levels in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past 30 years. Today, more than one third of all children in the U.S. are classified as either overweight or obese.
As both a fitness professional and a parent, I am continually asking myself how fitness professionals can make a dent in the childhood obesity epidemic. My three boys, ages 3, 6 and 8, are all very active, play many sports and love running around at the park. My two older boys are entering the first and third grades, and I have been shocked by the lack of physical education available to them at school. My boys have just 30 minutes of P.E. once a week, while the CDC recommends children get 60 minutes or more of physical activity every single day.
As fitness professionals, we have a duty to help this next generation grow up to be strong, fit, healthy adults. There are three ways we can facilitate healthy habits — by encouraging healthy eating as a family, being great role models and organizing fun exercise and activities.
Encourage Healthy Eating as a Family
Parents or caregivers are typically the people responsible for their children’s eating habits, so start at the top. Work with your adult clientele on how to provide healthy meals for the entire family. Tell them to get their children involved in the grocery shopping and cooking. Research shows that children who initially reject a food must be exposed to it at least 8-10 times for the food to be accepted, so encourage your clients to not give up on pushing those vegetables.
Be a Great Role Model
Kids walk around with eyes wide open, taking in and learning from the world around them. Set a positive example — show children that you are a healthy person who lives a healthy lifestyle. Walk around with a water bottle and a smile on your face. Wear active clothing and fitness shoes and stand tall and proud. Whenever you are introduced to a child, tell them about your job and how much you enjoy it. Tell them the benefits they will enjoy as a child if they eat well and get some exercise every day.
Facilitate Fun Activity and Exercise
The CDC recommends children get 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day, with the activity encompassing three areas — aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening. Find activities that encompass two or even three of these areas at once. For example, running relay races would involve both aerobic activity and bone strengthening. Swinging on the monkey bars would provide both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.
The goal with kids is to make physical activity fun and all about the experience, not the end goal. Reward the behavior — run a lap, get a sticker. Jump rope 100 times, get a hand stamp. Disguise the activity so they don’t know it is exercise — free dancing, splashing around in a pool or roller skating. Steer kids towards activities they clearly enjoy so that they can develop a lifetime love of fitness.
As fitness professionals, our job is to improve people’s lives. Remember though not to target just adults. Start younger — much younger — and you will affect far more change than you realize.
The article’s author is Jenny Rowe, the mother of three boys and the founder of Xercise Lab. Xercise Lab offers six pre-choreographed programs that are licensed to health clubs on an exclusive basis. One of those six programs is RECESS LAB®, a 45-minute pre-choreographed cardio and strength-training program designed for boys and girls ages 4-12.