"If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all" - Joey Adams
While this probably defines us adults most aptly, unfortunately the scene seems to be getting replicated in the life of kids too. The growing incidence of obesity and resulting health hazards like diabetes, hypertension and other associated diseases are becoming a reality in the life of urban Indian kids at an alarming rate. Even if one is fortunate enough not to be combating problems of excess weight in our kids, the importance of exercise and nutritive food habits cannot be over emphasized.
As more kids are spending more time in front of TV, videogames and computers, it is a good time to look at the list of the numerous benefits from regular exercising.
- Exercising gives children strong muscles and bones, and also develops flexibility. Building better bones in childhood gives better bone health in later life
- It improves their concentration power and promotes good memory
- Exercise releases endorphins that enhances mood and reduces susceptibility to anxiety and depression
- It improves their heart and lung capacities, makes them less prone to colds and allergies
- Exercise helps children gain height and develops good posture
- It also helps them develop their self esteem and improves focus
In fact according to Grand Master Choa Kok Sui of Modern Pranic Healing Foundation – “Exercise has a cleansing effect – physically and etherically.” Who would have thought that physical exercises can lead to spiritual development too, but the sages of ancient India thought just that. Hatha Yoga is a science of gaining spiritual evolution and enlightenment through the mastering of physical postures.
Children who enjoy exercise may develop a lifelong, healthy habit of being physically active. As they grow up they will find themselves better equipped to continue with a fitness regime that breaks the otherwise sedentary lifestyle that adults get trapped into.
"Fitness needs to be perceived as fun and games or we subconsciously avoid it" - Alan Thicke
If you are lucky enough to have a child who you have to drag back from sport, great! What if your child is unenthusiastic about playing? Here are some tips to help your child into a fitness frame of mind.
Be a role model for your child
If you eat well, exercise regularly, and incorporate healthy habits into your family's daily life, you're modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids that will last. If however, watching a match is the most sport you get, it is unlikely your child will be inspired to do differently. Participating in physical activities together will not only help cultivate a healthy lifestyle but will also give more opportunity to spend quality time.
Give some honest thought to your child's strengths, abilities, and temperament, and find an activity that could be a good match. If your child is overweight, he or she might lack the endurance to run, but might enjoy a sport like swimming. A child who's too small for the basketball team may enjoy gymnastics or yoga.
Remember that some kids will prefer sports that focus on individual performance rather than teamwork. The goal is to find an activity that a child has fun engaging in, feels motivated to stick with and can be supported in a manner that doesn’t stress you out.
Plan a bike hike
Kids love cycling. Teach your kids about Critical Mass and turn the fun also into learning. Critical Mass is a bicycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world. While the ride was originally founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets.)
Says Rajesh Kalra, Chief Editor of Indiatimes, who takes his 11 year old son Himal cycling every opportunity he gets “The benefits of cycling are threefold, not only is it about fitness, it requires no fuel, plus it does not pollute.”
"Find fitness with fun dancing. It is fun and makes you forget about the dreaded exercise" - Paula Abdul
Do it together
Rekha Bajpe, a potter and film maker, experienced this first hand when she took her daughter Vidisha for Jazz classes at the age of 5. Instead of waiting outside or tackling traffic dropping and picking, Rekha enrolled herself into a group too. While Vidisha spent three good years adding to her jazz skills and fitness quotient, Rekha describes her time there as a ‘BLAST’. The effect of the 45 minute warm up preceding the actual learning of the dance steps, put both Rekha’s body and spirit into an enviable shape! Any dance form would require vigorous physical activity and result in poise and grace. Chose the one your child gets most excited about and you have easy access to.
Local cricket teams, Youth Soccer League matches or Taekwondo classes, there are many options to choose from if one would only look. Motivate your child to participate in school-organized sports and physical education classes.
Or just plan more family outings that include physical activity like walking, hiking and swimming. Getting the TV out of your children’s bedroom may be the 1st step you take towards a healthier lifestyle. TV in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight in the US, where 1 out of every three kids is considered over weight.
Healthy eating is a habit that children need to be taught in order to lead fit lives. Be a role model by paying attention to your own diet and fitness without being obsessed with it.
- Discourage kids from eating, while watching TV or at the computer.
- Eat as a family as much as possible and encourage kids to eat slowly and learn to enjoy good food.
- Invite children to participate in food choice and preparation. (See our article - Cooking with Kids)
Avoid falling into some common food/eating behaviour traps
- Don't reward kids for good behaviour or try to stop bad behaviour with sweets or treats. Come up with other solutions to modify their behaviour. Make ‘making of an exotic fruit smoothie’ as the reward instead of offering an ice cream scoop for a job well done.
- Don't maintain a clean-plate policy. Be aware of kids' hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they're full. If kids are satisfied, don't force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they're hungry. This of course does not mean that children should be allowed to waste food, but teach the child to serve smaller portions, instead of piling on a plate and leaving food uneaten. However, if a child is unable to eat, do not force. Remember – ‘if it doesn’t go to waste, it shall go to waist.’
- Don't completely eliminate all sweets and favourite snacks from kids' diets. Children may rebel and overeat these forbidden foods outside the home. If children like to eat foods like burgers and pizzas, find healthy alternatives that you can substitute like wheat buns, whole wheat base etc. to ensure they don’t live up to their reputation of junk food. If they love the kebabs, grill them instead of frying them. Try and put honey on the toast(whole wheat bread) instead of jam. Instead of completely banning fizz drinks, evolve a one part fruit juice and three part soda fizz concoction of your own.
If you are yourself engaged in the battle of the bulge, these tips are very handy for you too.
Remember, genetics too have a role to play in the child’s weight. While some things your children and you may not be able to change, making lifestyle changes that can make a difference should not be deferred. An over weight child may already be battling with issues of low self esteem. Assure the child of your love no matter what. Get the child to participate by bringing attention and seeking support in your own efforts at improved fitness. This way the child feels motivated without being pressured. If the child sees you forgo your favorite parantha for a healthy stuffed roti, he shall feel less unhappy about switching to a grilled chicken sandwich instead of his favorite chicken burger. Help your child find the triggers to over eating by investigating your own with him. It has been found that lack of sleep also promotes over eating among kids and adults.
So, not only does not exercising enough lead to weight gain and obesity, but even not sleeping enough can result in the same. While being over weight can cause sleeping disorders, not sleeping enough can also lead to being over weight. It is not just about the parts, but the whole. It is a lifestyle that needs to be altered. Once the vicious cycle of no exercising and excessive eating is broken, it can lead to a natural rhythmic cycle of eating well, exercising well, sleeping well and therefore living well. The trick is to take the 1st step. Begin with a few minutes of a fun filled physical activity that can put your children and you firmly on the path of fitness for life.
"Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness" - Earl of Derby