Originally published in Austin Woman, August, 2014.
You may have memories of being outside exploring or playing games with the neighborhood kids. Today, parents are more cautious and often, children are only outside if they are involved in organized sports. Many children spend their free time playing video games, watching TV or on social media. The unfortunate result? Kids are not physically fit, and lack of exercise and activity is negatively affecting their health.
PROBLEMS CAUSED BY CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Due to the rise in obesity, doctors are seeing problems in children today that in previous decades were usually only seen in adults. Being overweight or obese puts children at higher risk for:
- Cardiovascular disease (including high cholesterol and high blood pressure)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Bone and joint problems
- Sleep apnea
- Social and psychological problems due to bullying or low self-esteem.
In addition, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese adults, putting them at risk for long-term health problems in later life.
THE BENEFITS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
If you are involved in a young person’s life, whether it’s as a parent, grandparent, aunt or friend, you can help that child get fit and stay fit by helping them adopt good health habits, including eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and good fat.
Children and adolescents who participate in the recommended amount and type of physical activity will become healthier adults, in addition to these benefits:
- Weight control
- Lower blood pressure
- Better cholesterol levels (elevated HDL, or good cholesterol, and reduced LDL, or bad cholesterol)
- Reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
- Better self-image, improving self-confidence and self-esteem
HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO KIDS NEED?
The Centers for Disease Control makes the following recommendations:
Children should participate in one hour or more of physical activity per day. Daily activity can include moderate-intensity activity or vigorous-intensity activity. They should participate in vigorous activity at least three days a week. Moderate-intensity activity involves things like hiking, skateboarding, biking, brisk walking or games like baseball, softball or volleyball. Vigorous-intensity activities include games or activities involving running, jumping rope, martial arts, dancing or sports such as hockey, basketball, swimming or tennis.
As part of the 60 minutes per day at least three days a week, your child should include muscle-strengthening activities like push-ups, resistance exercises with weights or bands, sit-ups or gymnastics.
Bone strengthening activities should make up at least three days a week of a child’s 60 minutes of physical activity a day. To strengthen bones, children should jump rope, run or participate in sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball or tennis.
Many activities will meet all three needs at one time (for example, sports that involve running, basketball, tennis, etc.).
HOW TO ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Parents and kids lead busy lives, but it’s not as difficult as it may seem to incorporate activity into kids’ lives. Here are some suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Make physical activity a part of your family life.
- Find a fun activity that the child in your life enjoys so he or she will want to participate.
- Choose age-appropriate activities. (For example, a 7-year-old child should not lift weights, but soccer or swimming is developmentally and
- age appropriate.)
- Provide access to active toys like balls, jump ropes, etc.
- Make sure your child has safe equipment that is comfortable and appropriate.
- Limit television and computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of total screen time (including TV, videos, computer and video games) each day. Use the additional free time to increase physical activity.
Play with the children in your life. Have fun! If children see adults participating in sports and physical activities, they are more likely to participate as well. It’s important for their health, and you just might improve your own health in the process. Read more here.
A NEW APPROACH TO PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Jen Ohlson, an Austin-based innovator, is hoping to change the way schools approach the important subject of physical education. As the founder and president of Interactive Health Technologies LLC, she created the IHT Spirit System and PE3 curriculum. This integrated assessment solution, the leading one of its kind in the United States, combines web-based heart technology with assessment measurements that involve teachers, students and parents in the student’s physical education.
Here’s how it works: Students wear a heart-rate monitor (they strap it across their chest) during class. This monitor alerts the student when they drop below their minimum level or exceed their maximum heart rate. The heartrate monitor works in combination with the Spirit reader, which is a proximity reader that collects the data from the Spirit monitor, and transfers it to the computer and cloud-based software.
The data is available each day to teachers, students and parents. Students and parents receive a summary of the student’s daily workout as soon as class is done, and students can also add a journal entry. Ohlson believes this is a great way to get parents, as well as students, involved in the process.
“With our program, every single day, parents get an email about their student’s activity, and it opens up conversation,” Ohlson says. “Allowing every stakeholder to be a participant is huge. It enhances the education and makes everyone part of the process.”
Currently, the system is being used in 25 states and hundreds of schools. It is receiving wonderful reviews from teachers and parents alike. Chelsey Miller, a high-school health and physical-education teacher in Gunnison, Colo. says, “PE 3 and the Spirit System have absolutely improved the lives of my kids. Last year, my kids lost 87 pounds as a class, and we are working on a school-wide 5K.”
These results inspire Ohlson to promote her integrated system throughout the country, including in Texas.
“Our passion is also to help decision makers from the legislative level see that physical education is a really important part of the school, and the healthier kids are, the better academics are,” she says. It’s not surprising that an Austin woman is leading the way in a physical-education program that promotes healthier kids with the support of technology.
Jen Ohlson is the founder and president of Interactive Health Technologies LLC (IHT).
DID YOU KNOW?*
- On average, children spend nearly three hours a day watching television.
- Only half of children and teens ages 12 to 21 exercise regularly.
- More than 15 percent of all schoolchildren are considered obese or overweight.
- Overweight teens have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
- Eighty-five percent of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are either overweight or obese.
- Sleep apnea occurs in approximately 7 percent of children who are obese.
*Information obtained from Healthy Children, a website powered by the American Academy of Pediatrics.