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How Active Lifestyles and Exercise Is Healthy For Your Child

Only 25 percent of kids in the United States participate in any daily physical activity, according to the National Association of Sport and Physical Education. This lack of exercise contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, and obesity can eventually lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses

Is there hope for our sedentary kids? The CDC report, "Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports," identifies strategies for increasing physical activity and fitness in kids. Among other things, the report calls for school programs to include quality daily physical education and youth sports and recreation programs to offer accessible and attractive activities for a variety of kids.

P.E. is the Key

Even with the implementation of government programs, parents need to teach kids how to make healthy choices. "Don't expect kids to live a healthy and active lifestyle if their parents eat poorly and don't exercise," says Tony Sparber, owner of New Image Weight Loss Camps.

Indeed, exercise is the key to good health. Kids need some sort of physical exercise daily. Encourage your teen to pursue interests that get him or her moving such as school-based sports or physical activities.

Also, start exercising as a family. "Make fitness part of the family dynamic," Sparber suggests. "Take walks after dinner with your kids, go to the gym together, and bike and roller-blade on the weekends." Sparber adds that sharing common experiences brings families closer together. Additionally, healthy teens enjoy higher self-esteem than overweight or out of shape kids.

Crystel Riggs of Clemson, Utah, wanted to help her overweight daughter get in shape. Riggs had her backyard graded to allow for a play area where there had previously been a steep slope. She says, "My daughter and her friends have a safe place for outside activities now so they get more exercise."

Even if your teen already has room to play outside, coaxing kids off the sofa can be difficult. Use the following suggestions to energize teenage couch potatoes.

  • Enroll your teen in a class. Analyze your child's likes and dislikes and come up with something creative. Maybe your 16-year-old daughter would like to take a self-defense class, learn how to box or try yoga. Your teenage son might enjoy scaling walls at a climbing gym or learning how to fence. Check colleges and community programs for fun and unusual classes.
  • Play outside. Offer to drive your teenager and his or her friends to the ice-skating rink or community swimming pool instead of the video store. Suggest older teens go on a hike and pack a healthy picnic for them to enjoy.
  • Plan family activities. Instead of watching your kids tan this summer, grab a Frisbee or volleyball and challenge them to a game. Or rent bikes and explore a new area.
  • Set limits on passive leisure activities such as watching TV and playing video games.

Laura Vik of New York witnessed the effects of regular exercise on her overweight teenager. "My daughter went from a size 14 to a size 7 last year by biking, walking and watching what she eats. She feels great," Vik says.

Fight to Eat Right

Leanne Ely, nutritionist, encourages parents to buy healthy foods and eat them to set good examples for kids. But what if your family often stops for cheeseburgers after soccer practice, supersizes everything, and ends up with more fat in one meal than is recommended for a whole day?

It's possible to change bad habits. "Have a family meeting,Ely says. "Explain why the family is changing the potato chips for baby carrots and why it's important."

Let your kids know what they eat matters. "Just like computers -- garbage in, garbage out," Ely says. "If your kids want to feel good, get good grades, and enjoy their youth, they need to feed their bodies -- not stuff them with junk."

Unlike some nutritionists, Ely recommends removing unhealthy foods from the house when overweight kids are trying to diet. "Not that they will never have another potato chip again; I just think keeping this stuff in the house is a mistake," she says. Ely also stresses that obese teens need therapy. Just like a child with a speech impediment needs to visit a speech therapist and practice exercises at home, an obese child needs to be trained into a healthier, new lifestyle of eating right and exercising. "Statistics show that an obese child, with no change in lifestyle, will grow up into an obese adult with all of the related health risks," Ely says.

Let Them Eat Carrot Sticks Instead of Cake

Convenience is the key to teen-friendly snacks. "With foods like baby carrots, teens can have a snack right away by just ripping open a bag," Ely says. She recommends pre-cutting raw veggies for quick access and providing a big bowl of washed fruit for kids on the go. "When my kids ask for a snack, I let them hit the fruit bowl first, she says. "Then maybe give them a fiber-filled muffin with cream cheese, and some raw veggies. After that they should be satiated."

Don't forget to encourage kids to drink water. "Most people, teens included, walk around in a state of semi-dehydration. It's easy to mistake thirst for hunger," Ely says. If a teen is still hungry after a healthy snack, have them down a big glass of water and wait 10 minutes. They'll probably feel full and not ask for more food.

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