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The Age of Computers and Television has also become the Age of the Couch Potato. Instead of running outside to play, our kids choose to sit down and text. This decrease in activity level is contributing to the current child obesity epidemic. One third of all children in the United States are overweight or obese and at risk for medical illness because of their weight. Is your child part of that group? If so, insufficient exercise could be partly to blame.
A new study from the British Heart Foundation revealed that the vast majority of parents overestimate the amount of time their kids exercise. According to this study, seven out of ten parents think their kids get enough exercise but only one in ten actually meets current recommendations. Most parents don’t even know what the current recommendations are! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of exercise almost every day of the week. Few children get even half that amount.
And many people confuse “physical activity” with “exercise”. True exercise requires an increase in heart rate and the inability to speak in full sentences. Your child is not working hard enough if she can carry on a conversation while she is moving. The next time your child is exercising, try this “talk test”. Ask her a question and see how she answers it. If she responds fluidly without any huffing and puffing, ask her to turn the intensity of her exercise up a notch. You can be sure your child is really exercising is she takes deep breaths between words.
Parents often believe that their kids are exercising whenever they play a sport. Yet many sports do not get a child’s heart rate up enough to constitute true exercise. Consider baseball; a child playing baseball spends most of his time sitting on the bench waiting to bat or standing in the field waiting for the ball. I always tell my patients that baseball isn’t exercise! Of course, a baseball practice that includes running drills is an exception and would be considered real exercise.
When parents ask me if a particular sport is considered exercise, I tell them that it depends. When my daughter first started to play soccer, she would stand on the sideline and watch the other kids run with the ball. If the ball would happen to come to her, she would kick it. Clearly, this was not exercise. But fast-forward two years later and she is a soccer animal! She runs up and down the field, trying to get the ball and score. Now she is exercising!
How can you ensure that your child is getting enough exercise? I recommend scheduling your child’s exercise just as you schedule a doctor’s appointment. Decide in advance when your child has the time to exercise and put it on the calendar. The key is to keep these appointments. Being tired or not in the mood does not constitute a reason to skip an exercise session. Would you skip a doctor’s appointment for those reasons? Of course not! Treat your exercise sessions the same way.
Remember, 70% of parents incorrectly believe their kids are getting enough exercise. Do not be part of that group! Examine your child’s exercise routine with an unbiased eye and make sure that she is getting the exercise she needs.