A Chubby Kid

I was a chubby kid when I was growing up, and believe me when I tell you, it made my life difficult. When you really get down to it, kids can be tactless, at best, and downright cruel when they want to be. This, of course, included my brother who seemed to derive profound satisfaction in tormenting me.

Granted, I was pretty young at the time (3rd grade), and I gradually shed the extra pounds as I hit puberty. Part of the weight-losing process, however, was surely due to the fact that, with both of my parents away at work, I was forced to get around either on foot or by riding my bike, and most of these excursions entailed miles of travel, including getting to school.

Benefits of Being Active

Today, it seems as if people travel virtually everywhere in their cars, and people often miss out on an opportunity to not only get some exercise, but to enjoy their time outside in the fresh air. Granted, there are safety issues to consider, but in many instances, walking or riding a bike is forsaken in the interest of taking the car.

Which is a shame. Being active has many positive consequences on a child's quality of life, including a healthier body weight, as well as more energy and stamina. Many experts also believe that exercise can help to improve a child's academic performance.

In fact, a recent study reported on MSNBC.com sought to examine the benefits, if any, of commuting by foot on a child's performance in school, and what they found was intriguing.

Walking to School

In the study in question, which was published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers found that when teenagers walked or rode their bikes to school, they performed better on tests for verbal and math abilities, though this effect applied only to girls and not to boys.

Interestingly, the positive influence of walking or biking to school seemed proportional to the commute, i.e., the longer the distance, the greater the impact. Furthermore, the child's level of activity outside of school was not a determining factor.

The authors acknowledge that they are at a loss to explain why boys are not as affected, and theorize that perhaps with their greater level of activity, walking to school does not have as much of an impact. Another question is whether it is the exercise or the actual commute that matters. While exercise increases blood flow to the brain, a leisurely walk allows for time to think and ponder the day ahead.

Kids Should Exercise

Regardless of the conclusions pertaining to how your child gets to school, it goes without saying that children benefit from exercise. In addition to maintaining a healthy body weight, experts believe physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain that can help their concentration, memory, and overall learning. It may also have developmental benefits, and it is thought to help reduce the incidence of colds and depression.

With this in mind, parents should encourage their kids to be active. Here are some helpful tips to meet this end.

  1. Join in the fun. Kids are not the only ones to benefit from exercise. Adults need to sweat now and then, too. By joining in, you're not only encouraging kids to move around, but you're helping yourself, as well.
  2. Feed them a healthy diet. Eating junk food is not conducive to exercise, and can end up making you feel even worse. A wholesome diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats will not only make kids (and parents) feel better, but will contribute to their overall good health.
  3. Discourage screen time. Nothing will sap a kid's desire to be active or drain them of their energy more effectively than watching TV or playing computer games, so try to steer them in the direction of physical activities, preferably outdoors.
  4. Set a proper example. It is difficult to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle in children if mom and dad do not walk the walk. Besides, exercise is always more fun when done with family or friends, so parents should remember to keep their own good health in mind, as well.
  5. Don't let the weather stop you. We live in Vermont, where we get our own share of rough weather, but with proper planning and attire, there are countless opportunities to break a sweat and, most importantly, have fun, regardless of what Mother Nature presents to you.
  6. Be creative. Coming up with ways to motivate your children is easier than you think, because when you get down to it, kids have fun just being outside and running around. Even doing chores can be entertaining with the right frame of mind. Sometimes, all it takes is getting them out the door, and children will often take care of the rest.

Remember, being active is good for more than just a child's physical well-being. Exercise helps kids to think clearer, perform better on cognitive tasks, and could very well go a long way to strengthen their self-esteem.

For more information on exercise and your children, speak with your pediatrician, and visit the website for Kid's Health.

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