As feature in Spectrum Life Magazine Fall 2019
When I first started Specialty Athletic Training, I had no idea the struggle with weight that our youth are having. Sure, we have several clients that come to us wanting to work on their coordination, strength, and endurance. But most parents bring their children to work with us to help with weight management. There are several factors that typically play into the spike in weight gain (eating habits, trouble sleeping, new medications, etc) but there is almost a common underlying theme. Their child doesn’t enjoy being physically active.
Physical activity is essential to growth and development in children and adolescents. The global health recommendations state that this population should accumulate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, however they are currently living a less active lifestyle than in the past. The level of inactivity has been coined by Dr. Steven Blair as “the biggest health problem of the 21st century”. Fewer children are walking or biking to school, there is less unstructured free play, and physical education classes are prime targets during budget cuts. So, what can we do to change this? Set the example and instill healthy habits in our youth.
The American adult population is currently setting a terrible example for our youth, so the numbers of their inactivity shouldn’t be a surprise. Our country is battling an obesity epidemic with nearly 40% of the adult population being considered obese which affects 13.7 million of American children. Physical activity is one of the best ways to combat obesity, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 23% of American adults are currently meeting the recommended physical activity guideline of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
We need to work on whole family lifestyle changes and place an increased focus on children’s activity level in order to reverse the upward trend of adult obesity. But what does that look like and how do we get our children active? I’m so glad that you asked!
First, exercise needs to be FUN. It shouldn’t be something that children dread, but rather something that they look forward to doing. Many of our clients have a negative association with exercise and have low self-confidence with their body’s ability. Fitness professionals need to keep this in mind as they create their fitness program for their youth clients.
Children that are overweight or obese will often shy away from traditional youth-based exercise routines because they are typically cardio focused, but they excel when being introduced to resistance training. They can see and feel their improvements over time, which increases their self-confidence and self-esteem. The correct exercises will also work on their fine and gross motor skill movements, which often attribute to their challenges of fitness related activities.
Humans (not just children) shy away from things that they are not good at. Failure is seen as negative rather than a positive. Parents need to encourage failure as it is the best learning tool.
Let me explain. Many parents will say to me that their child runs awkwardly. When asked how often their child runs, the common answer is, “They don’t because of their awkward running motion.” But how will they ever get better at something if they don’t practice? As parents we need to reinforce our children’s effort, rather than the outcome, especially when they are working on a new challenge. Practicing new skills in a safe and encouraging environment is the best way to fail, which means it’s the best way to learn.
Children are little sponges that replicate what they see and hear. We often find ourselves as parents asking, “Where did they hear that word?”, only to remember a time that we may have let it slip. Sound familiar? Actions are no different. We need to be better at living a healthier lifestyle ourselves and being the proper models for our children. Why should we expect our children not to want sweets when they see us indulging our sweet tooth? Why should we expect them to want to go play outside instead of watching TV, when they see us binge watching Netflix after work?
The best way to change our children’s habits is by changing your own. Include your children in your own fitness journey and show them how important exercise is to you. Are you going to be perfect? Nope. Will you have setbacks? Yep. And that is ok! Your children need to see that too and they way that you get back on track. Remember that they are always watching. Provide the positive health example that they need.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. He is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America and the Central Oregon Disability Support Network.