Archive for July, 2014

6 Sports Your Kids Should Try this Summer

Monday, July 28th, 2014

With time off of school, the summer months are a great time for kids to try something new. If you are looking for a way to get your kids excited and create an anything-but-sedentary summer, check out the 5 suggestions below.


Perfect as a follow-up to the fun and excitement of the World Cup, sign your kids up to learn more about the world’s most popular sport. Not only does soccer improve balance and agility, but plenty of running means great cardiovascular exercise and conditioning for other sports. For parents who are nervous about the aggressive physical contact in sports like American football, soccer is a great alternative.


Register your kids for a few tennis lessons and watch their coordination, balance, and flexibility improve, along with their determination to hit the ball. The resistance portion of playing tennis is also an exercise in strength training, leading to better bone health. Tennis has also been proven to improve tactical thinking and boost creative brain power.


Did you know that water is 12 times denser than air? The density of water forces the body to work harder than on land, even though it feels like less work and is actually easier on the joints. For kids who struggle with asthma, swimming has been shown to help deter attacks by increasing lung volume and encouraging proper breathing.


If you think that hitting the links is just for the old and out of shape, think again. For kids who are able to walk the three to five miles of a typical 18-hole golf course, it provides a great aerobic workout, on top of improved strength (especially if kids are carrying a 30+ pound golf bag).


If you are close enough to a coast, take advantage of summer surfing lessons. Surfing combines the resistance and cardio of swimming with the balance and agility in tennis. Surfing works every muscle in the body and provides a fun adrenaline rush too.

Outdoor Volleyball

What says summer like beach volleyball? Even if there’s no beach around, outdoor volleyball is a great way to spend summer afternoons. Kids learn hand-eye coordination, build strong muscles and bones, and burn plenty of calories while soaking in some summertime sunshine.

Take advantage of school being out for the summer and encourage your kids to try out a new sport. Even if it’s in the backyard with friends or family, finding ways to keep your kids active during the summertime months not only keeps them off the couch but enables them to truly enjoy the essence of the season—and their childhood. Enjoy!

SPARK celebrates 25! Reflection from Dr. Jim Sallis

Monday, July 21st, 2014

SPARK celebrates 25!

By Jim Sallis

It’s exhilarating to celebrate the 25th year of SPARK. In 1989 we had big ambitions for our new NIH grant. We wanted to define what health-related physical education is, comprehensively evaluate a program that we designed to meet that vision, and then encourage schools to adopt the program so kids could be healthier. I could not have imagined where those ideas have led by 2014. I am very proud to be part of the SPARK story, because SPARK has improved the physical activity, health, and quality of life for millions children and adolescents over the past 25 years.

The research teams worked hard on the SPARK and M-SPAN studies that produced the original curricula, training, and support model and materials. But there are numerous successful research programs that never have any impact in people’s lives. What makes SPARK different is the staff, led by Paul Rosengard. Paul and the staff not only share the vision of improving children’s health through physical activity, but they have built an organization that brings the joy of SPARK to about 1.5 million young people every day. I use “joy” of SPARK deliberately, because the first data we collected in a pilot study were enjoyment ratings of SPARK PE classes. We were pleased that the fifth graders chose “smiley faces” almost all the time for all the class activities. Delivering fun has been our job at SPARK ever since.

At 25, SPARK as an organization is now an adult. The staff have high level skills and are dedicated to doing a great job at customer service. We have created a national network of trainers, and the feedback from staff development sessions continues to be consistently enthusiastic. We take responsibility for updating, expanding, and improving programs and products. Like most young adults, SPARK is a sophisticated user of technology. Our video group has produced hundreds of videos that help instructors deliver great physical activity programs. All materials are now available online. I am amazed that teachers now can take all of SPARK out on the field with iPads. That is a real revolution in physical education. SPARK is even doing some traveling, growing rapidly in India and China. I’m confident SPARK will continue to evolve and innovate so we can get better at delivering great instruction to teachers and great physical activity to students.

As long as our schools want children to be active and healthier, we will keep delivering the joy of SPARK.

Jim Sallis

James F. Sallis, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine Chief,

Division of Behavioral Medicine.

University of California, San Diego

SPARK Staff at ATM Dinner

SPARK staff celebrates 25 years at the Annual Trainers Meeting in June 2014

8 Healthy Summer Snacks for Kids

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Even when kids are out of school for the summer, families are still on the go. Planning healthy snacks is a smart way to keep everyone healthy, energized, and well rounded for summer activities. Take a look at this short list of smart and healthy summer snacks for kids:

Watermelon. This super fruit lives up to its name—it’s made up of 92% water. It is also jam-packed with beta carotene, vitamin C, and lycopene. Plus, kids love it!

Homemade trail mix. Avoid buying the pre-packaged kind that can come laden with extra salt and sugar. Opt for your own recipe that includes nuts, dried fruits and even some coconut.

Peaches. Not only are these sweet, juicy fruits in season, but they keep your potassium levels healthy. Try throwing a few peaches in your beach bag for a quick, refreshing treat that will also keep your kids hydrated.

Cucumbers. These cool vegetables are good at keeping kids cool too. Cucumbers are an excellent hydration source and the skin contains plenty of vitamin C. They may even prove helpful in treating sunburn. The skin of a cucumber contains caffeic acid, a skin-soothing agent.

Grapes. These fruits are perfect for growing bodies because they promote healthy bone development and have even been linked to improved dental health. Whether green, red, or purple, grapes are sweet, easy to pack, and a summer favorite for kids. For an even more refreshing take, freeze them first.

Blueberries. Summer is an excellent season for berries of all kinds, including this super antioxidant. Aside from its cancer-prevention properties, blueberries are known to boost immunity because of their high levels of vitamin C, zinc, iron, and selenium. Try organic wild blueberries for added antioxidant benefits.

Homemade popsicles. There are countless ways to make popsicles at home, as long as you have a blender and popsicle molds. Even the popsicles in the grocery store that claim to be made from “real fruit” usually have additives and preservatives, so skip those and opt for a healthier, homemade version instead. Besides, your kids will love helping you make them.

Kiwi fruit. This tangy fruit is a kid favorite and usually pretty easy to find in the summer months. One piece of kiwi fruit actually contains higher levels of vitamin C than an orange, and just as much potassium as a banana. For kids with respiratory issues, kiwi fruit has been shown to improve shortness of breath and chronic cough.

What healthy snacks do you always have ready for your family to eat in the summer?

5 Tips for a Healthy, Well-Rounded Summer Vacation

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Summer break is a great time to recharge before the upcoming school year, but can also cause some problems if it isn’t approached with a plan in mind. Research has found that kids gain weight twice as quickly during the summer than the school year, and some academic regression can also take place while on that blissful summer break.

Planning activities such as exercising, to keep your kids physically, mentally and emotionally sharp over summer break will make those months that much more enjoyable for your family, and will really make a positive difference when the school year comes back around.

Here are a few ways to have your most active, fulfilling summer break yet:

  • Hit up the local library. Summer is the best time of the year to visit your neighborhood library and take advantage of its many free resources. In addition to summer reading programs, libraries usually plan special activities for kids who are out of school. Some libraries even offer low-cost or completely free kids’ fitness classes too.
  • Take a daily walk. The cooler weather in the evening coupled with longer hours of sunlight provide the perfect opportunity to get out and explore the neighborhood. Make a habit of heading out into the community as soon as the dinner dishes are washed—and continue it for as long as the weather permits.
  • Train for an event. There is no shortage of active events that take place in the summer months, from 5k road races to family fun days with classics like three-legged and potato sack races. Find an event or two in your area and then prepare by training as a family!
  • Volunteer. Use some of your family free time for good by spending some of it with a local organization. Look for a charity or non-profit with values that are important to your family, and explain the importance of what you are doing to your kids. You can even allow each kid to pick out the charity of their choice and then go as a family to volunteer.
  • Keep learning. The “summer slide” refers to the regression kids experience when they have too much time away from school. Whether you print off worksheets from your computer, enroll them in a science-centric camp or simply read together each day, find simple ways to keep the learning process moving forward in the summer months.

How do you keep your family from falling into unhealthy habits during summer break?