A healthy start: Exercise should begin in childhood

Fifty percent of our young people ages 12 to 21 are not physically active at all. Moreover, 60 percent of those that do exercise are not meeting the recommended level of activity for good health, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on physical activity and health.

The recommended “dose” of exercise is to move our bodies on most days of the week at a moderate pace (150 calories per day or 1,000 calories per week). Based on this activity recommendation, all of us reap tremendous health benefits. We also can reduce our risk for developing those illnesses that prematurely take the lives of many sedentary, unfit individuals.

Here’s something else to think about. One-third of our children are over-fat. Children who are over-fat need to be encouraged to exercise regularly. Often, kids learn by what they see more so than by what they are told. As parents and caregivers, we can help our children get up and move more by providing the opportunities to do so. And by making regular physical activity a priority in our own lives, there is a better chance that our children will follow in our healthy footsteps. Given this kind of positive encouragement and example, all kids – in all shapes and sizes – can develop consistent activity habits early in life.

Just like kids, activities come in different shapes and sizes too. Not all kids like sports – and that’s OK. Not all kids are good at sports – and that’s OK too. My son happened to love sports. He played everything from baseball, soccer, football and wresting to bowling and diving. But some kids are ostracized and feel left out when it comes to sports. For example, they may be the last ones to be selected on a team. These kids start to associate sports and activity as something that they can’t do or don’t like to do, and some grow up as adults thinking of exercise as some sort of punishment. These people carry negative images of exercise and will do almost anything to avoid it.

Let’s teach our children that exercise can feel like the “joy of movement” in all of us. Teach them also that you don’t need to develop particular skills to move your body. There are many activities that a person can choose that are more health related rather than skill related. These include walking, biking, running, throwing a Frisbee etc. In addition, there are many fitness classes for kids that are designed for play, not sports, and where everybody is a winner.

Sports activities are great if your child has a desire to participate. But if your child isn’t interested in sports, there are other activities that can give your child a sense of “I can do it” – and enjoy it at the same time.

Many overweight kids can feel great about exercise, as well as about losing fat. Losing fat is a by-product, not an end-product, of leading a healthier and more active lifestyle. There also are the added benefits of improved self-efficacy and self-esteem.

I’d like to share a story about a wonderful kid who – has not only lost weight, but has become a “can do” kid. In his own words, this is his story.

My name is Jonathan, and I have been attending the Hamot Wellness Clinic since the beginning of this year. I was not very confident about losing weight until I met my trainer. She helped me to build up the confidence I needed to lose weight. Since I have started going to the Hamot Wellness Center, I have lost 26 pounds and I feel great.

The people at the Wellness Center have made me feel very comfortable exercising there. They are very nice people who are always there for a good laugh.

Thanks to the Hamot Wellness Center, I have had more confidence in myself and in the things that I do. I am glad I went there.

Jonathan’s attitude is great. In addition to exercising at the Wellness Center, he loves basketball and soccer. Jonathan is 12 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds when he started exercising.

His weight didn’t get in the way of becoming healthier, leaner and more active. He pumps iron, walks the track, uses the treadmill and the rowing machine.

And what is most important is that he loves it.

He truly is an inspiration to all of us. We can learn a lot from Jonathan; mainly to get moving, have a positive attitude and do whatever you can to be as healthy as you can be.

Exercise of the week: This week’s exercise is the “chair dip,” which works the muscles of the back of the upper arm (the triceps muscles). Begin with your hands on the edge of a chair. Slowly lower your body, pause, and then return to the starting position.