Being a kid today is anything but easy, depending on socio-economic status, location, resources, etc. I think the one thing most of us can agree on is that kids need to move, now more than ever before in our nation’s history. Ass we all know from being children ourselves to having our own youngsters, kids have an abundance of energy. There are numerous ways for kids to become active, one of which is to get them involved in extra-curricular activities. But before we get into that, let’s discuss youth fitness and goals for kids.
When I was in PT school, the one rule of thumb for training kids and young adults was that ‘any movement was good as long as it doesn’t hurt them physically’. When it comes to teaching kids about healthy eating and fitness habits, there’s a method called the ‘ABCDE’ method. It stands for ‘Act Boldly to Change Diet & Exercise’. Good nutrition and adequate activity is essential for healthy brain development which is critical for their ability to learn and retain new skills.
Children who exercise regularly and eat healthy diets are more likely to:
- perform better in school
- have better self-esteem and feel better about their bodies and abilities
- cope with stress and regulate emotions better
- avoid depressive and anxious feelings
If you create these habits early on in life, the likelihood that they will carry over into adulthood is very great.
The effects of geographical location on a child’s physical and exercise habits obviously vary but have commonalities among kids from under-developed areas:
- Lack of access to healthy, wholesome foods and lack of physical activity contributes to kids being overweight and not getting adequate nutrition.
- Hunger. Kids who don’t get enough to eat are at serious risk for developing behavior issues, chronic health problems, anxiety/depression, school/academic problems and even obesity.
- Media. Most food targeted at children are of the unhealthy variety. With the number of television and internet platforms available to children, advertising is usually pervasive. Television viewing is linked to childhood obesity because it displaces physical activity, increases snacking behavior while watching, exposes kids to potentially harmful advertising and reduces their resting metabolism.
YOU are critical in this fight. But what is your role?
You are the adult and the parent. You are your child’s first and most important ally and role model when it comes to developing good nutrition and exercise habits. Children don’t learn what we tell them most times. Instead, most children learn through what we show them and often imitate us. So, if you are trying to set your child on the right path to having a good lifestyle with food and fitness, ‘Show, don’t tell’ is always a safe way to go.
You are also gatekeepers for most of the child’s developing years so you are able to control what they eat and can expose them to new and interesting food that they may gain a likeness for. You can also monitor and limit media and consumption of TV to avoid the numerous ads targeted at kids and young adults about sugary, fatty foods on the market.
Lastly, you are your child’s advocate. Not enough parks and recreation facilities in the area? Reach out to your local congressperson or government official. Volunteer to become a coach of your child’s athletic team or help out in some way. Get involved in any means necessary to ensure that your child is performing at their best 100% of the time outside of school and your home.
I mentioned setting fitness goals for teens above. Establishing fitness goals for teenagers is SUPER important and beneficial because it gives them direction and a pathway to reaching those goals. It is also important because starting goal-setting habits early on in life will help them in numerous areas as an adult. Goal setting for kids and teens shouldn’t be something too drawn out, instead the goals should be more short-term so they can see progress quicker and they are able to create new and more challenging goals for the long-term.
When setting specific goals, MOST of the goals should target cardiovascular exercise like running, swimming, dancing, etc. Due to the fact that teenagers are constantly growing and maturing, goals for flexibility and bone strengthening are a great thing to incorporate as part of strength training goals. The more range of motion that the teen is able to retain, the better off their overall posture and skeletal structure will be when he/she is finished growing. Incorporating exercises such as jumping rope will help retain their bone strength.
According to the CDC, children should be getting on average, 60 minutes of physical activity everyday. The majority of this should come from a moderate to vigorous intensity activity such as an after school sport, strength training or some version of cardiovascular exercise. Now, I could go on and on about caloric intake, maximum heart rates, etc., but let’s save that for a follow-up entry!
As I stated above as well, after school athletics and extra curricular activities are a great way to get your child involved in fitness at a young age. It also helps their social development too so as not to become depressed or anxious later on as they’re growing up. This may take some digging and detective work on your part as the parent, especially if your child never talks about sports specifically and what they like. Have a casual conversation with your child regarding do they like sports, do they want to become active and what different options are available for them to take part in. This kind of decision cannot be one-sided and needs to be mutually agreed upon by both parties and should never be ‘forced’ on the child. A lot of parents may want to relive those day when they were in sports and feel the need to live vicariously through their children! That’s totally unnecessary and not fail to your child.
The end goal is simple to get your child more active in his or her life and develop discipline and a love for being healthy. They need to be able to feel that they can explore new and different modes of exercise, nutrition and find the things that they enjoy for themselves. They best way for you as the parent or caretaker is to just enjoy taking this journey with them.
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John Schessler is a Personal Trainer, Writer, Actor and Host of the podcast, ‘Flip Your Script’ on Apple iTunes who operates from Pittsburgh, PA. He is an accomplished personal trainer/sports injury & orthopedics specialist with over 10 years of fitness and physical therapy experience. If you have any questions or feedback about the blog, I’d love to hear from you! Send all emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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