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Keeping Kids, Especially Girls, Active

Sprig Toys is dedicated to making fun, engaging toys that keep kids safe and active. Our mission is to get kids off the couch. Ironically, I have been dealing with my own teen daughter living the sedentary lifestyle and have been looking for ways to raise her activity level. The research definitely demonstrates the need for kids to lead more active lifestyles and reducing caloric intake. A recent study reported that children who spend between 1 ½ to 5 ½ hours a day watching television are more likely to have high blood pressure than children who watched television less than half an hour a day. I’m not sure of the numbers, but I imagine it was very difficult finding a population of kids who watch less than half an hour of TV a day. Other studies indicate that high childhood obesity rates result in additional physical issues. It’s been shown that young adults who gained too much weight as teenagers tend to have greater amounts of deep abdominal fat —risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life, and its also been reported that children who are overweight between the ages 6 and 7, are at an increased risk for asthma.

Although both boys and girls face barriers to being physically active, the challenges for girls are more numerous and complex. Many girls feel as though physical activity is less important for them than it is for boys. This is a message often echoed by parents, teachers and communities. Girls also report feeling less physically competent in sports than boys. Traditional models of physical education are organized around competition, team sports, power, strength, aggression, all of which focus on the “motor elite” rather than skill development. This focus discourages girls (and boys) who are less skilled to begin with, and may contribute to a lack of enjoyment and a shunning of lifelong participation in physical activity. Nicole LaVoi, one of the authors of Tucker Center report ( Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-based Multidisciplinary Approach, 2007, The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport) discusses another impediment to girls’ involvement which is “the professionalization of youth sports” — parents treating kids like mini-pros by pushing them to engage in highly competitive sports leagues. “You could argue that kids just don’t know how to participate in unstructured play because there is so much focus on organized activities these days,” she says.

All of which results in the incidence of female overweight and obesity doubling during adolescence, even though eating habits may remain the same. But exercise doesn’t just burn calories, it also builds muscle and strong bones, says Thomas A. Lloyd, Ph.D., director of the Young Women’s Health Study at Pennsylvania State University. Although calcium and vitamin D are important, Dr. Lloyd’s research shows exercise is the key to healthier bones from about age 12 through 17. After that, the body no longer adds the bone strength that later fuels resistance to osteoporosis.

Given the impediments to exercise and strong reasons to get more active, what’s a parent to do? I have found some tips on how to help my daughter develop a more positive attitude towards physical activity, which you might find useful. Develop an understanding for what is bothering her about exercise. This understanding can lead to discussions about possible solutions.

Model the behavior desired. Begin exercising, as girls with physically active parents are much more likely to exercise themselves. This is challenging as much of both my wife and my day revolves around our work lives. My exercise time is usually before my daughter is awake taking the dogs out for a brisk walk. I will have to readjust my schedule to bring her into my exercise program, taking time to bicycle or walk in the evenings after work.

Help her practice skills to participate in sport activities, such as throwing and catching. But also reinforce that physical activity doesn’t just mean participation in a sport or going to the gym. It can be as simple as walking, using stairs, cycling, or rollerblading. And keep it fun, research also indicates that inactive girls perceive exercise as boring hard work.

Inactive adolescents turn into inactive adults, says researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina. This is not a future I want to build for my daughter. It’s important to me, as building activity into girls’ lives before adolescence can help stave off disease. Hopefully I’ll successfully steer my daughter toward a healthier course and change her focus to skating, running, softball, skateboarding — anything that gets her away from the remote and the keyboard.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Keeping Kids, Especially Girls, Active

  1. And the other important benefits of regular exercise for teen girls is that it helps to channel the complicated emotions that come with adolescence, hormonally based and other wise! If we can get them onto upping their endorphin power, they’ll have a stronger body, calmer self and be on their way to an overall healthier lifestyle. Do you think the confusing messages of hyper-thin media images make it hard to understand that anything other than not eating is the way to achieve societal acceptance as a woman? I have three girls and two of them, at a pretty young age, are already very conscious of body-size and we’ve been very vigilant in not feeding the mass media machine, promoting health and well-being. But it is everywhere! Thanks for the post.

    Posted by Lisa | August 23, 2009, 3:48 pm
  2. Thank you for your comments! Its definitely true about those early body image pressures. A few years back our local newspaper did a feature on spray on tanning and cover picture was of an 11 year old girl getting her tan sprayed on.

    Posted by sprigtoys | August 23, 2009, 3:55 pm

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