“Interview with Marianne Hedrick, Be Active North Carolina Program Coordinator, nrg and Parenting for Health”
My 15-year-old doesn't enjoy sports and is involved in very little physical activity. He's a smart kid with great grades, but I worry about his health now and in the future. His doctor has said he needs to lose about 10 pounds. I've encouraged him to get up and take a walk at least, but he's not interested and certainly doesn't want to do those things with me. How can I encourage him to be more active?
Consider less conventional activities as exercise for your son. Encourage participation in nontraditional physical activities that are often seen as “cool” or “extreme” and are focused more on individuality, autonomy, and self-expression, including (but definitely not limited to) mountain biking, skateboarding, or Frisbee golf.
Because he is a good student, he might enjoy activities that have an interesting history or that are mentally stimulating as well as good exercise. How about martial arts? Hapkido, for example, is a Korean martial art that translates to “the art of coordinating energy.” You could start with some online research or a good book, and then encourage him to look into local clubs and organizations. Some other ideas might be geocaching, rock climbing, or taking bicycle or walking tours of historic sites. And of course, look into whether your son can safely walk or cycle to school.
Your son is old enough to engage in a discussion about this issue. Tell him about the risks of inactivity, and encourage him to do some research on his own. Engage him in the process, and just like you have expectations for performance in school and in household chores, have firm expectations for the amount of activity your children get every day. At the same time, continue to praise him and encourage his good habits. Becoming physically active can be a challenge at any age, so recognize all of the little achievements along the way to a healthier life.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind that will help you get your son moving:
- Every member of your family, not just your son, should be physically active
- Your family should fuel with lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins;
- Restricting your entire family’s TV, computer, and video game time to 2 hours or less a day, even on weekends, will leave more time for activity and less sedentary time.
I'm thinking about signing my preschooler up for soccer? He loves sports and playing outside, but I'm worried that at age 4 he's too young? Is there a good time for kids to start organized sports?
Developmentally speaking, organized and competitive sports are more appropriate for children ages 7 and 8. With that said, children develop at different rates and these developmental stages are age-related and not age-specific. Each child is unique!
If done in an appropriate manner, organized and competitive sporting activities are great in building children’s confidence through challenging, team-based participation. If provided with the correct instruction and support, children as young as 4 could participate in an organized sport that will help them develop skills and confidence for later in life. Remember that children are not mini-adults and should not be treated as such. Modifying instruction and drills along with managerial factors such as time, space, people, equipment, and rules are essential.
For example, in soccer with younger age groups, there should be fewer people on the field at a time, designated playing areas, softer balls, less air in soccer balls to slow the ball down so they can practice skills, and limited or no focus on points and scores. The bottom line is making their first experience with an organized sports activity a positive one. Encourage skill development, enthusiasm, effort, sportsmanship, and having fun versus winning.
Here are a few key factors to keep in mind as you decide if organized sports are appropriate for your preschooler: the credentials of the coach and their coaching style; your child’s interest, motivation, and skill level; your child’s ability to understand drills, equipment, rules, boundaries, etc.; your child’s motor skill development; your child’s ability to understand the balance between challenge and success; and how involved and supportive you would like to be and can be.
What's the best way to keep my kids active this summer?
Plan, plan, plan… Integrate physical activities into your daily, weekly, and monthly calendars. Engage in daily walks after dinner when it is cooler, and spend time playing with the kids right when you get home from work before doing anything else (kick a ball, take a bike ride, throw a Frisbee, etc). Do this every day to establish consistency. Use the newspaper and internet to find physical activities and put them on the calendar, and don’t be afraid to try something new as a family—variety is the spice of life! When going on vacation plan for your physical activity by looking for fun family activities such as biking on the boardwalk or taking a hike in the woods at a state park. If you’ve worked to establish consistent physical activity in your daily lives, you’ll have no trouble continuing this away from home: continue to walk after dinner, take day trips to a local attraction, etc.
Contact your local parks and recreation departments, YMCAs, and 4-H groups to find out about recreational activities and camps. Many of these groups offer financial assistance or scholarships, so if money is an issue, they may be able to help you. Don’t be timid—if you need help, ask for it! Finally, don’t forget about the pool! North Carolina is hot in the summer, so utilize water as a fun way to play outside and keep from overheating. Many neighborhoods have pools, but you can also take your kids to a local lake or the beach. Make sure to use the appropriate sunscreen and use it often! Plan for periodic breaks to get out of the sun, rehydrate, and fuel—nothing tops water and fresh fruits, such as apples and oranges, as a healthy outdoor snack.
I'm in a lunch rut. Can you share some healthy lunch box ideas?
We did a quick survey here at Be Active North Carolina, and among our moms and dads, we had a lot of repeat answers that might be worth a try: tortilla roll-ups instead of sandwiches, veggies with ranch dip or hummus, pitas, crackers with cheese, meat, or peanut butter. Use low-fat or fat-free cheese and whole grain tortillas, pitas, or crackers. For other items, consider drinkable yogurt, popcorn in lieu of chips, and a piece of fruit. No matter what, you should try to provide at least one serving of vegetables, at least one serving of fruit, a whole grain, and a serving of dairy. One of our favorite portable lunches is a small whole-wheat pita, cut into wedges, baby carrots, tomatoes, and slices of cucumbers served with store-bought (or homemade) hummus; another favorite is a home-made soup from the night before in a sealed thermos with crackers (if you make a broth-based soup with beans, such as bean and bacon, the soup will thicken overnight and be extra tasty the next day). Here are a few complete lunch ideas, but mix-and-match and let your son or daughter help choose:
- Hummus, veggies, and whole wheat pita wedges to dip; whole apple; milk
- Veggie-filled home-made soup in a thermos and whole grain crackers; orange; cheese stick
- Turkey and reduced-fat cheese on a whole-wheat wrap with veggies such as lettuce, tomato, and cucumber; pineapple cup (in juice, not in syrup)
- Carrots in ranch dip; drinkable yogurt or yogurt in portable tube; apple slices with peanut butter; popcorn
I always dread Halloween and the huge stash of candy my child will get. Friends say I should just let them eat all of it. I just don't think they need so much. Any tips for how I can deal with this?
To limit how much they collect to begin with, consider Trick or Treating to be a time to get dressed up, take a walk, and show off their costumes. Stop by only a few houses, and let them pick what neighbors they visit. Once you get home, hide the candy—out of sight, out of mind! They can take have one piece a day with lunch or dinner. Some schools collect the candy and donate it to Ronald MacDonald House—check to see if your school does this or will do it and use the generosity of the holiday season as an excuse to take an extra long walk.
If you really want to avoid the whole issue, host a party for the neighborhood kids with lots of traditional, fun fall activities: bobbing for apples, sack races, and so on. Make healthy snacks like popcorn balls. Check your town’s rules about Trick or Treating—in many communities, teenagers aren’t supposed to be out. Take them to pick out a pumpkin and do a corn maize instead. Make being active and enjoying the season the priority, and don’t let candy and sweets take over!
Marianne P. Hedrick
Program Coordinator, NRG and Parental Advocacy