Originally published Sept. 23, 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News

Savannah Burke, For the Sun-News

There was a time when children would play outdoors and get exercise by riding bicycles, running or playing hopscotch. The popularity of cell phones, video games and computers and increased academic demands have contributed to the decline in outdoor play for children. Except when children are involved in sports, gymnastics or similar activities, some may not be getting enough exercise, which may lead to undesired health consequences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity during childhood is important for promoting lifelong health and well-being and preventing various health conditions. Not only does regular physical activity improve overall health and fitness among children, but they will also build strong bones and muscles and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

academic benefitsCan physical activity improve a child’s academic performance? When children participate in the recommended physical activity – 60 minutes daily – multiple health benefits arise. Incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes children less jittery and more focused on their schoolwork. There is also increasing evidence that physical activity improves cognitive function among children. After at least 20 minutes of exercise, children tested better in spelling, reading and math as well as read above their grade level (Active Living Research, 2017).

Most children, however, do not engage in the recommended levels of physical activity (CDC, 2017). One solution that has shown positive impact by increasing students’ physical activity in elementary school is the use of “Active Party Kits,” implemented by the LCPS Nutrition Services department. The Active Party Kits are intended to provide a fun and healthy alternative to celebrate with and reward children.  These kits include activities such as hula-hoops, Frisbees, rhythm wands, croquet, hop-along bouncers, launch volleyball and much more.

Not only are kids getting the recommended levels of physical activity, the kits will help reduce the amount of sweetened treats and beverages being served in the classroom. By eliminating snacks brought in by parents, there will be less worry for those who have food allergies and it helps save parents/ guardians’ money by not having to purchase them. The Las Cruces Public Schools is working hard to provide more healthy opportunities for children by providing all activity equipment for each interested school to host healthy celebrations using our SNAP Ed grant.

Additionally, it is important that teachers and parents/guardians know the 5-2-1-0 message which helps kids increase healthy eating and active living. As we are all bombarded with diet information and get more confused by nutrition headlines daily, the 5-2-1-0 encourages kids to consume five (5) fruits or vegetables each day, engage in no more than two (2) hours or less of screen time, get one (1) hour or more of physical activity and consume zero (0) sugary drinks.

The 5-2-1-0 and Activity Party Kits can play a significant role in the overall health of children. It would be very powerful if even half of families with children applied these healthy principles into their households and classrooms. Kids and their parents would benefit greatly in years to come and I would urge parents to encourage their children to be involved in physical activity.

Savannah Burke is an NMSU dietetic intern working with LCPS Nutrition Services. She can be reached at slburke@nmsu.edu

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