After what was a stressful end of the school year at home for many, kids are ready for some rest and relaxation. And that’s okay, as long as they also get some exercise.
Importance of staying active
“Studies have shown that lack of physical activity is an independent predictor of a child’s increasing body mass index and may even be more important than overeating, but it’s often the hardest to think about and address in terms of obesity,” said Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, a pediatrician at Baystate Children’s Hospital who oversees their Pediatric Weight Management Program.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily for children, but that doesn’t necessarily mean strenuous exercise such as spending time on the treadmill, or limiting activity to just one hour each day.
“Today’s current culture does not promote an active lifestyle. We tend to use our cars for even very short trips when we could have easily walked somewhere on our own. Then there’s remote controls for the television just to save us a few short steps,” Dr. Wittcopp said.
Summer is a great time to instill body-healthy habits in your children. Encourage them to get up off the couch and go outside to play. Better yet, go with them and make exercise a fun family activity. While some activities (like playgrounds) are off limits this summer due to the pandemic, there are still many options for staying active.
“We know that kids actually gain weight during the summer. While the warmer months bring a lot of free time to engage in more physical activity, within that free time there is also plenty of unstructured time, which may mean lots of extra eating for some,” said Kara Miller, MIGHTY Fitness Coordinator in the Pediatric Weight Management Program.
Miller offers the following suggestions to help kids keep active this summer:
- Water! Pools, beaches, boating, kayaking, water games (within COVID-19 safety guidelines in your area)
- Make use of public parks/trails/tracks for walking, biking, or hiking
- Backyard sports (frisbee, wiffle ball, you name it!)
- Take a walk around the neighborhood after eating. Turn up the music and make dancing be part of the festivities.
- Help your child to create an at-home workout. Find workout videos, cable "on demand" may offer some workouts, check YouTube, or create one of your own.
- Introduce your child to the wonders of gardening or helping with yard work.
- Be active as a family as a way to start the day or to end it, such as biking, walking, or running together. Tip: it may be a little bit cooler earlier in the morning or after dinner when the sun is lower.
- Turn off the television and computer! Kids can't be in front of them if they are not on. Reading and sleeping both burn more calories than watching television.
“Of course, safety is a must. For example, be safe in the water, use sunscreen, stay hydrated, wear lightweight clothing, and don’t forget your helmet. If you child is being active around where people are driving, be sure they wear colors that can be easily seen, especially in the dark,” Miller said.
Advice for working parents
So, what’s a parent to do when they have to go to work? How can you be sure they aren’t spending the entire day just lounging around?
According to Miller, if they are old enough to be left home alone, that means they are also old enough to clean the house and maybe prep dinner.
“Leave a ‘to do’ list that includes chores and meal prep. I like the meal prep part because if they're helping prepare dinner, they may be more likely to want to eat it. They can prep the veggies, season the meats, measure ingredients, or even assemble the dish,” Miller said.
Physical activity is important year round, not just during the summer, noted the fitness expert.
“There are obvious health and fitness benefits to being active, but being active also boosts confidence and improves social skills,” Miller said.
In addition to promoting a healthy weight and improving cardiovascular fitness, exercise has also been shown to relieve depression, which is a side effect of obesity, and it also relieves stress.
“The big key to keeping your youngster physically active is finding them an activity they will enjoy enough to continue to do on their own. And it may take some experimentation and trying several things before you find the right activity, but it will be worth the effort,” Dr. Wittcopp said.
About the Pediatric Weight Management Program
The Baystate Children's Hospital Pediatric Weight Management Program is a multi-disciplinary program serving children age 2-21 years with a diagnosis of obesity ( BMI > 95% for age). The program offers children and families resources aimed at promoting healthy nutrition, healthy activity and a healthy lifestyle. Services include:
- Complete medical evaluation and treatment by pediatricians that specialize in childhood obesity
- Evaluation and treatment by registered dietician
- Referral (if needed) to psychologists who specialize in childhood obesity
- Enrollment in MIGHTY (moving, improving, and gaining health together at the YMCA)
MIGHTY is a 6-month-long group program with strong emphasis placed on physical activity, nutrition and behavioral change for the entire family. It includes a fitness evaluation, individual fitness prescriptions, group exercise sessions, individual and group nutritional counseling and strategies for lifelong behavior change. Families who participate in MIGHTY also receive a free 6-month long membership to the YMCA. In order for a child to be enrolled in MIGHTY, they must first be evaluated at the Pediatric Weight Management Program.