By Yuki Hayashi
According to Statistics Canada’s 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, roughly 25 percent of kids in the 6″“11 and 12″“17 age groups are overweight or obese. As we all know, this creates a hornet’s nest of health problems, now and in the future. One of the most obvious causes of the obesity crisis is the fact that kids don’t get enough exercise. According to a study by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, 90 percent of Canadian kids are not getting the daily physical activity they need (60 to 90 minutes a day) for optimal growth and development.
Active young people experience lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and have greater opportunities for making new friends, says Dr. Claire LeBlanc, an Edmonton-based pediatric rheumatologist and kids’ sport medicine physician. “These children are also less likely to get involved in substance abuse,” she says. Plus, the physical benefits range from helping maintain a healthy body weight to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea — all consequences of obesity that doctors are seeing in younger Canadians, says Dr. LeBlanc.
Additionally, weight-bearing activities like running and jumping help build bone density. “Children should eat a healthy diet including foods with sufficient calcium and those fortified with vitamin D and take part in high-impact physical activities in order to promote good bone health and prevent osteoporosis later in life,” she says.
The bad news: “Right around this age group, activity levels drop,” says Dr. LeBlanc, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Healthy Active Living & Sports Medicine Committee. Dr. LeBlanc suspects screen time and mall hopping can edge out sports, but also says: “At this stage, sports typically become less fun and more competitive. That’s why some kids stop playing.” A major key to keeping your kids active is to make sure they’re having a blast. “Sports should be about fun, fun, fun — not win, win, win. It’s an important attitude for parents and coaches to model,” says Dr. LeBlanc.
To keep a child interested in getting off the couch, let her choose her own sport, even if that means she plays basketball instead of hockey like you were hoping. “Kids shouldn’t live their parents’ dreams; they should live their own,” says Dr. LeBlanc. Your tween is also old enough to decide if she wants you watching her play or not. Respect her wishes if she suggests you wait elsewhere until she’s done practice.
If your preteen is bored with the standard swimming/hockey/soccer scene, why not have her try one of these sports instead?
triathlon: “Triathlon gives kids a physical challenge that isn’t about winning but about feeling good. They can say, “I can do that,’ and that’s something they’ll carry to other places for the rest of their lives,” say Laura and Brian Travelbea, race directors of Vernon, B.C.’s annual Mr. T.’s Turtle Head Triathlon. The race follows guidelines set by Canada’s Kids of Steel league, with challenging but doable running, swimming and cycling distances tailored to age. Karen Cooper, a Coldstream, B.C., mom of four kids (aged 20, 18, 11 and 6), says her youngest two got into kids’ triathlon after observing their mom and dad training for Ironman Canada. Now the family does light training together. “Triathlon teaches my kids that hard work and dedication are important — but so is having fun,” says Cooper.
Circus arts: Think of it as gymnastics’ more creative, less competitive cousin. While both utilize similar skill sets, circus arts uses different (cooler!) equipment and has a more co-operative, free-flowing (but safe) environment. Cardio, core muscle conditioning and improved balance are three payoffs of this frolicsome discipline. “Circus arts includes tumbling, trampoline, trapeze, aerial apparatus, handstands and a whole variety of movements that let young adults gain strength throughout their entire body, not just the lower body as in many other sports,” says Decker LaDouceur, owner, head coach and school director of the Toronto School of Circus Arts (torontocircus.com).
If your child is convinced she needs a backpack more...