Archive for the ‘Child Obesity’ Category


8 Ways to Keep Your Kids Active Indoors

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There’s nothing quite as fun and rewarding as getting outside as a family to be active. But in geographic areas that experience harsh winters, getting out can be difficult for many months of the year. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of TV watching and video game playing, but these and other sedentary habits can be harmful in physical and developmental ways. By getting creative, you can come up with fun activities to try out under the protection of your roof.

Here are just a few ideas:

Cook with your kids. What better way to be active, learn together, and encourage healthy eating? Pick out recipes that feature plenty of wholesome ingredients, like vegetables and chicken, and let your kids help you put the meal together. Clean up afterwards as a family and you will have even more opportunity to be active as a unit.

Plan a scavenger hunt. Leave clues throughout the house that lead to a prize at the end. If the weather allows it, make a few of the clues lead outdoors too. The prize can be something as simple as cozy new socks to something as exciting as a note that outlines a planned special outing.

Throw a dance party. This is easy enough. Turn on the radio and crank up the tunes. Let your kids take turns picking their own playlists. Who knows? They may even teach you a move or two.

Set up an indoor obstacle course. Use chairs, tables, boxes and anything else that makes a good cliff or tunnel and turn your home into a temporary challenge course. Make it competitive by timing each other, or working together on relay teams. If your kids are old enough, let them create some of the obstacle course too. Note: Look out for safety and make sure there aren’t any hazardous areas.

Piece together a puzzle. You may not work up a sweat, but working together on a puzzle is great for team-building, bonding, and critical thinking skills. The great thing is that you can pick out a puzzle that has significance to your family as well—perhaps a favorite sports team or even a family photo that has been made into a puzzle. The time you spend together will be much better spent than if you’d just sat in front of a screen.

Redecorate. Roll up your sleeves and transform a room or two in your house with the help of your kids. Rearrange furniture, organize drawers and cupboards, and rehang wall art in new locations. Let your kids have insight into the creative process, too. It will give your kids an enhanced sense of ownership of their own home and keep the entire family active in the process.

Put on a play. Pull out your favorite family storybooks and reenact them or come up with your own original script. Incorporate whatever your family likes the best—singing, dancing, or just being silly. The best part of this idea is that you can repeat it over and over, and no two performances are ever the same.

Watch a workout video. Pop in a workout DVD or pull up content online that will get your family moving in sync. You can even look up specific exercises that you want to learn and then give it a try together. No matter what the weather is like outside, you can find ways to break a sweat with the right workout video.


Being stuck inside does not have to mean a death sentence for your active lifestyle. Instead, look for creative ways to utilize what you have inside to stay fit and involved, even if the weather outside is frightful.

How does your family stay active in the colder months of the year?

10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Millions of people will make resolutions when the New Year rolls around, and millions of those resolutions will have to do with living a healthier, more active lifestyle. Keeping those resolutions is challenging, but by making resolutions as a family, you have a built-in support group that encourages each other to reach fitness goals throughout the year.

Take a look at a few ways your family can resolve to be more fit in the coming year and beyond. 10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

Train Together

Sign up for an upcoming event, like a short road race or obstacle course challenge as a family unit. Schedule training sessions together, set individual goals, and cheer each other on in the process.

Park with a Purpose

Every time you’re out and about, reconsider the urge to find the closest possible parking spot. Deliberately park your car further away than normal. Over the course of a year, all of those additional steps will really add up. Plus, your heart will appreciate a reduction in stress that comes with navigating crowded areas and battling with other drivers for parking spots.

Try Something New

Pick a new sport or activity to try out as a family or resolve to try something new each month of the year. For extra family fun and participation, rotate who gets to choose each new month’s activity.

Get Outside

Resolve to spend more time in nature. Take family walks after dinner or frequent a neighborhood park once per week. Check out your city’s Department of Parks and Recreation website to find parks and open spaces that are open to the public. You’ll probably find a lot more than you knew existed, including a few family favorites to visit regularly. There’s no denying the benefits nature has on our well-being!

Unplug

Set limits on electronic device use, including watching television. Schedule times to put all phones, computers, and tablets away and fill that space with active pursuits—even cleaning the house—instead.

Plan an Active Vacation 10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

When you are trying to decide where your next family getaway should be, take a look at what recreational opportunities you can fit in. Are there trails to hike? Canoeing options? Downhill skiing or water sport activities? Let these activities guide the planning process and build them into your itinerary.

Just Walk

Whenever possible, walk to your destination. When you get there, find ways to add even more steps to the experience. This can include everyday activities, like going to school or work, and can also mean taking walks for the sole purpose of fitness. Buy everyone a pedometer or activity tracker and keep track of your steps together on a family chart.

Plant a Garden

Not only will you have fresh, healthy foods to place on your dinner table, but you will be active in the garden through the building, planting, and harvesting process. Teach your kids that not all foods come prepackaged at the grocery store and that some of the tastiest ingredients can be grown right at home.

Pencil It In

Don’t just say you will be more active; actually write it on the schedule alongside other family obligations. Having it in print will make you more accountable to uphold your New Year’s resolutions to keep moving as a family.

Being more active as a family is the best New Year’s resolution you can make any year. Make this year one that brings your family better health and fitness outcomes, and resolve to reach your goals together.

Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

Monday, December 15th, 2014

You may not have been aware but there are some amazing, fresh fruits and veggies that we only have access to for part of the year! The winter season welcomes some very unique produce that is great tasting as well as highly nutritional. Take your meals to the next level this season by incorporating these healthy fruits and veggies while adding color, nutrients, and pizzazz to your dishes.

Parsnips Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

  • In Season: October-May
  • Nutritional Value: This root vegetable is high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, dietary fiber, and potassium. It also contains antioxidants that have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties. The majority of vitamins and minerals found in parsnips are located very close to the skin. In order to maximize the nutritional value, it should be finely peeled or cooked whole.
  • Fun Fact: Parsnips are 100% edible; however, their shoots and leaves contain toxic sap that can cause a chemical burn or intense allergic reaction upon contact with skin!

Delightful Dish: Savory Parsnip Madeleines

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan
  • ½ cup peeled and grated raw parsnip
  • ¼ cup toasted and chopped pistachios

Grapefruit Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

  • In Season: December-April
  • Nutritional Value: This fruit is a great source of vitamin C, fiber pectin, and the antioxidant lycopene. Consuming grapefruit can help lower cholesterol and burn fat.
  • Fun Fact: Grapefruit is eaten as a sweet candy in areas like Costa Rica. The fruit is cooked to remove sourness and then filled with dulce de leche.

Delightful Dish: Seared Mahi-Mahi with Citrus Compote

Ingredients:

  • 2 Oro Blanco grapefruits
  • 2 Page mandarins
  • 2 Owari Satsuma mandarins
  • 2 Fukamoto navel oranges
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1½ pounds mahi-mahi

Artichoke Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

  • In Season: September-December/ March-June
  • Nutritional Value: Artichokes are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium. They also have one of the highest antioxidant levels compared to other vegetables. This funny flower can help with digestion, liver function, and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Fun Fact: The artichoke that we purchase at the store to consume is actually just the head of the flower. The stem that supports it can grow to be over 6 feet tall!

Delightful Dish: Shaved Artichoke Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 minced shallot
  • A couple sprigs of mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Juice from 1-2 lemons, plus 2 more lemons
  • 3 artichokes
  • Handful salad greens, washed and dried
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Olives, pitted
  • Feta cheese, crumbled
  • Almonds, chopped and toasted

Pomegranates Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

  • In Season: September-December
  • Nutritional Value: This fruit is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber. It possesses antioxidant and antibacterial properties within the juice of the seeds. These properties have potential health benefits of reducing risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and fighting dental plaque.
  • Fun Fact: A single pomegranate can contain anywhere from 200 to 1,400 seeds. Each seed has a pulp and the white area that holds the seeds is called the membrane. In ancient Egypt, pomegranates were a symbol of prosperity and ambition and were used to treat many infections, including tapeworm.

Delightful Dish: Sweet Couscous with Fresh Pomegranates

Ingredients:

  • Several large pomegranates
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon superfine baker’s sugar
  • 1 pinch freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1 cup fine-grain packaged couscous
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, peeled and crushed

Sweet Potatoes sweet potato

  • In Season: September-December (in market January-March)
  • Nutritional Value: This root vegetable contains complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and beta-carotene. While it is starchy, it is actually ranked highest in nutritional value compared to rice, wheat, potatoes, and corn.
  • Fun Fact: Sweet potato consumption has become increasingly popular in the US. It is often served as French fries or baked potatoes and paired with fun condiments like blue cheese.

Delightful Dish: Sweet Potato Stew with Greens

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon rasam powder
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard or collard greens
  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro

Whether you are cooking in large quantities for the holidays or preparing small meals for yourself, incorporating these seasonal fruits and veggies will surely be satisfying. Get inspired by seasonal cooking and take a look at other fruits and veggies that are only available at this time of the year. Your body with thank you—and so will your taste buds!

SPARK Teams Up with ICAN Foundation

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

SPARK Teams Up with ICAN Foundation to Rush Past Childhood Obesity with New Orleans Saints Running Back Pierre Thomas

Partnership aims to decrease “screen-time” and increase physical activity both during school and after school with quality PE programming and community events

SPARK™, provider of the world’s most-researched physical education programs, is partnering with ICAN Foundation to make an immediate impact on the lives of students in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. SPARK and ICAN Foundation will work together to help schools and community centers raise funds or apply for and win grants in order to implement SPARK’s high-quality physical education curricula or afterschool program.

SHAPE America recommends that school-aged children receive at least 60-minutes of physical activity per day. This is hard to achieve if students spend most of the eight-hour school day sitting behind desks. SPARK fights this sedentary school model by making classroom instruction, PE classes and after school programs more physically active. Similarly, the increased amount of time youth spend using electronics is impeding on physical activity after school and on the weekends. Through its community programs and initiatives, ICAN Foundation is helping create more active lifestyles to demonstrate how being active can be fun and rewarding.

“After learning about the similarities of our organizations and the fact that SPARK is the number-one research-based health organization in our country, I knew a partnership was necessary,” said Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints running back and founder of ICAN Foundation. “This will be a great opportunity for everyone involved, especially the students.”

“Working with ICAN Foundation is the perfect marriage of ideas for SPARK,” said Paul Rosengard, executive director of SPARK. “With the foundation’s deep community connections in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi, and SPARK’s 25 years of experience in schools nationwide, we make a great team. With a joint goal of increasing the amount of physical activity youth receive every day, we know that together we can make an impact on those communities.”

How Can You Help?
Together, ICAN and SPARK will implement research-based programing to help combat childhood obesity in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Your support, partnership, or donation can assist us in our efforts. Please contact us to learn more and support the effort to combat childhood obesity.

Dr. Kymm Ballard
SPARK Partnership Development Manager
(336) 263-3646
kymm.ballard@sparkpe.org

Vincent Calabrese
ICAN Foundation
(312) 285-9384
calabresevm@gmail.com

About ICAN Foundation
ICAN Foundation was founded by Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints running back, in response to the ongoing problem with childhood obesity. ICAN Foundation was established to prevent and educate the children and their parents about the seriousness of childhood obesity in the United States. www.believeican.org

About SPARK
SPARK is a collection of research-based Physical Education, After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health programs for educators serving Pre-K through 12th grade students. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum materials, teacher training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders, representing many thousands of schools, organizations, and agencies worldwide. SPARK also helps educators find physical education grants. For more information on SPARK, visit www.sparkpe.org or email spark@sparkpe.org or call 1-800-SPARK-PE.

ICAN Foundation-1

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Friday, September 19th, 2014

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness MonthSeptember is known for back-to-school festivities and the transition into fall, but did you know that it’s also Childhood Obesity Awareness Month?

National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, initiated by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) four years ago, brings awareness and recognition to this devastating epidemic among the American youth in the hopes of ending a very real threat to the future health of millions of American children. Let’s look at some facts and some ways you can get involved.

Childhood Obesity Awareness Facts

We are grateful for this month-long promotion of awareness and action for childhood obesity, but this pressing issue should really take the spotlight all 12 months of the year.

Check out the facts:

  • More than 23 million American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese or overweight.
  • More than 1/3 of American children are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
  • Other obesity-related risks include heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
  • Childhood obesity is a completely preventable disease!

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month was created to educate and inspire the public to take action against the childhood obesity epidemic.

How to Get Involved

Whether you’re a parent, educator, or part of the community, there’s something you can do to help. Check out these ideas:

  • It all starts at home:
    • Educate yourself about the food and drink you consume. Encourage your own family to become more physically active and to develop better eating habits.
    • Expand at the community level:
      • Host an event where families can engage in fun active activities and learn about both the dangers of childhood obesity and how to prevent it.
      • Post flyers in public areas.
      • Tweet and use Facebook to promote activities and awareness.
      • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper encouraging community leaders to become involved.
      • Volunteer to host a presentation on childhood obesity and ways to prevent it at a local school or community center.
      • Approach community groups like scouts, 4H, boys and girls clubs, churches, and other religious communities about hosting an event, presentation, or activity to spread awareness of childhood obesity.
      • Encourage PSAs on local television and radio.
      • Sponsor ads in local media—newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
      • Partner with other agencies and organizations to hold a large, free to the public event.
      • Get involved with the government
        • Lobby your state legislature, surgeon general, school boards, governor, other state leaders, and even the First Lady/First Gentleman to host events, presentations, activities, and to make childhood health a priority.
        • Lobby for better, healthier school lunch and snack programs.
        • Petition for better funding for physical education programs in schools, improved community recreational facilities, and public health programs to end obesity at all ages.
        • Lobby for better and more funding for state parks and museums to encourage families to become more active.
        • Lobby for changes in state-funded food aid programs to eliminate access to processed foods, foods high in sugar and fat, and soft drinks.

Childhood Obesity need not rob millions of Americans of good health and good living. It can be stopped. It can be reversed. But it will take interested individuals to take action and become involved. The future of our country is at stake. The children of America need you, and while Childhood Obesity Awareness only lasts through September, it is a cause we all need to rally behind every month of the year.

Childhood Obesity Crisis: An Update

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Childhood Obesity Crisis: An Update

The Continuing High Cost of Doing Nothing

By Dr. Stan Bassin

Obesity is a modern health problem that impacts the modern world. Globally, more than 1 billion adults and 17.6 million children are estimated to be overweight (World Health Organization, 2009) and increasing. The proportional distribution of overweight around the world tends to vary with the developmental state of different countries. In developing nations, characterized by low standards of living and high population growth, underweight seems to be more prevalent than overweight. As countries modernize and begin to shift toward improved socioeconomic conditions, the wealthier portion of the population experiences an increase in the prevalence of high body mass index (BMI, the measure generally used as the indicator for obesity), while the poorer remain thin or underweight as a result of differing amounts of energy usage for tasks like transportation, and different levels of food accessibility and quality.

Further economic development results in another BMI shift, with the wealthy population receiving better nutrition and education which decreases BMI levels of the wealthy, as compared to members of the lower classes who experience an increased prevalence of high BMI (World Health Organization, 2009). The World Health Organization cites various obesity-associated health problems, many of which can be treated with an increase in physical activity. These include high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular problems; insulin resistance and abnormal glucose metabolism; sleep apnea, which can lead to neurocognitive defects (Dietz, 1998); and orthopedic ailments (World Health Organization, 2004). Other consequences include menstrual irregularities, as well as mental and emotional health problems. Overweight youth may have an elevated risk of developing asthma (Strong et al, 2005), and obesity is often associated with a reduction in deep breathing, narrowing of airways, shortness of breath and increased wheezing (Lucas, 2005).

The Cost of obesity related diseases is listed below in the Major United States Cities.

Childhood Obesity Crisis: An Update

Source: Gallup

Unfortunately according to Ladabaum, in the latest Study from Stanford School of Medicine 2014, we are not over eating but we are under exercising.

So, what can we do about this crisis?

There is not one simple way to solve the childhood obesity crisis, and many solutions are needed.  One solution is to get kids moving in school, since children spend a significant amount of time in the school setting (see Childhood Obesity: Quality Physical Education as a Solution video to learn more).  Evidence-based physical education programs like SPARK can help increase youth physical activity during the school day.  In addition, quality before/after school programs, integrated classroom physical activity breaks, and recess can provide additional opportunities for physical activity in school.

SPARK has continuously demonstrated it can elevate the rate of youth physical activity through its evidence-based and field-tested materials and training programs.  To learn more about evidence-based, quality physical education as a solution to the childhood obesity crisis, click here.  And, do your part by advocating for quality physical education and physical activity programs in your school.

Dr. Stanley Bassin

University of California, Irvine

Clinical Professor

Preventive Cardiology

Physical Activity School Score: PASS it on!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Physical Activity School Score (PASS)

Why it’s Important that School Programs Provide and Promote Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is extremely important for children’s growth, motor skill and physical fitness development, and current and future health. Being physically active in childhood also provides a solid base for continuing to be physically active in adulthood. The 2008 National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend children engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity daily, with at least three days per week providing muscle and bone strengthening activities. Unfortunately many children do not meet these national physical activity recommendations–especially on school days.

Physical education and recess (at elementary schools) typically provide some opportunities for physical activity at school, but they are often not scheduled frequently enough or facilitated in ways that fully engage all children. Many elementary schools in the USA do not have certified instructors to teach PE, and sometimes schools offer no structured physical education at all. Even in classes taught by PE specialists, research shows that children are sometimes active only about one-third of PE lesson time. As well, not all schools provide recess daily and sometimes children are kept from recess periods for academic or disciplinary reasons. Thus, in addition to the need for quality physical education and recess, other opportunities for physical activity should be made available throughout the day (e.g., classroom activity breaks, before and after school programs, and opportunities to walk, bike, and skate to and from school)

PASS: A Tool to Assess Physical Activity Opportunities at School

Many parents, School Board and PTA members, and school administrators have never been educated about the need for children to engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and they are frequently unaware what quality physical activity programs at schools look like. Meanwhile, numerous research studies have identified specific evidence-based practices that are more likely engage children in physical activity at schools. To help advocate for physical activity programs at schools and provide information about these evidence-based practices to elementary school administrators, teachers and parents, Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored us to create an on-line, interactive educational tool. To do so, we developed the Physical Activity School Score (PASS).

PASS is an 8-item questionnaire that allows respondents to assess various aspects of the main sources of physical activity at an elementary school. PASS increases awareness of evidence-based practices by providing feedback immediately after a response is made to each item. Following the last item, respondents are provided with an overall school score, and an opportunity to see how their school compares to other schools on each item and overall. PASS also provides easy links to online information to evidence-based school physical activity practices.

How Well Does Your School Score?

PASS takes about five minutes to complete. We hope that you get in the PASSing zone and try it out to see how well your school scores compared to the research-based criteria. Additionally, we hope you will deliver information about PASS to your friends, school board members, the PTA, and the parents of all he kids you want to help become active.

To learn more about PASS and to evaluate an elementary school near you go to:

http://activelivingresearch.org/physical-activity-school-score-pass

Here you can:

- See how PASS works

- Use PASS to assess an individual elementary school

- Download the “Pass  Background and Technical Manual”

Thom McKenzie, PHD, Professor Emeritus, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University

Monica Lounsbery, PHD, Associate-Vice Provost, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

[INFOGRAPHIC] SPARK 25 Years of Success! Countering Childhood Obesity Since 1989

Monday, June 16th, 2014

For 25 years, SPARK has made it our commitment to reduce childhood obesity. Follow us on our journey back to where it all began. Without you, this wouldn’t be possible, so thank you for all the support you have provided to help us achieve our dreams!

SPARK PEs 25th Anniversary Infographic

Share This Infographic On Your Site

5 Factors of Childhood Obesity

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Our infographic below illustrates the most significant biological, behavioral and environmental contributions to childhood obesity in America and some simple ways to maintain a healthy life.

5 Factors of Childhood Obesity

The Benefits of Structured Physical Activity for Early Childhood Programs

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Structured physical activities are usually led by a qualified adult and include organized sports, guided play, and school PE programs. Structured activities are important throughout a person’s life, but they play an essential role in early childhood—from birth to about five years of age. These are very tender years for a child. What they learn at this early age lays the groundwork for their future cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills. Let’s take a look at how structured physical activity benefits early childhood programs.

1. Structured activities encourage healthy behaviors to dispel childhood obesity.

Aside from our own research into the value physical activity plays in the lives of children under the age of 5, many other resources are coming up with similar findings. According to the CDC, over a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obesity puts kids at an immediate risk for cardiovascular disease, prediabetes, and bone and joint problems. In the long term, obese children are much more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at risk for a number of severe issues, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.The Benefits of Structured Physical Activity for Early Childhood Programs

Structured activities go a long way to prevent excess weight and obesity. Studies show that obesity prevention programs in preschool are highly effective, particularly in areas of poverty. Participating in guided, controlled activities for just an hour a day burns calories, builds muscle, and encourages kids to maintain an active life.

While it may seem overboard, especially for toddlers, we can assure you it isn’t. Instilling healthy behaviors through structured activities at such an early age lays the foundation for a healthier society as a whole.

2. Structured physical activities develop motor skills, coordination, and movement at a young age.

Infants and toddlers are little balls of energy. They crawl, roll, kneel, creep up stairs, and eventually find themselves upright, taking their first tiny, stumbling steps. It’s no easy feat for an young child, but structured physical activity encourages movement and helps a child learn how his limbs and muscles can move in unison; in other words, the basics of coordination.

As their physical abilities develop, kids learn to use their hands more. Around the age of two, kids particularly enjoy finger play activities, like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which assist in developing dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Other finger play exercises, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” allow children to touch and identify different body parts.

Even the most basic exercises and activities—throwing, catching, bouncing, or kicking a ball, for instance—help kids coordinate their movements.

Furthermore, structured activities pull developing babies away from products that inhibit free movement. According to Aid to Life, bouncers, walkers, and playpens significantly limit movement and force infants to move before they’re ready. As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk.

To accommodate a toddler’s coordination, movement, and growing interest in navigating his space, try to accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day, which could involve simple games, going for a walk, or participating in a parent-child tumbling or dance class.

Examples of how our Early Childhood lesson plans help improve these skills include: Hoop It Up, Super Stunts and Have a Ball. Feel free to review our other sample lessons plans from our Early Childhood instructional unit.

3. Structured activity improves mood and self-esteem.

You know how great you feel after a run, thanks mainly to the production of endorphins, the good-feeling chemical that floods your body. The same happens to kids, but it’s not something they entirely need to understand. What they do understand is the fun and good times that come from engaging activities.

Structured physical activities reduce anxiety and depression and give children a healthy outlet for managing everyday stress. These ideas extend beyond childhood, well into adult life.

During structured activity, parents and adults also have the opportunity to address body image. We live in a world filled with false perceptions of body image, which builds an unhealthy ideal perfectionism and an overly critical sense of self, both of which are linked to depression and anxiety. Structured activities provide kids with a positive body image—personal and otherwise—which provides a greater sense of self, builds self-confidence,  and gives them the emotional and social skills they need to cope with restrictive, highly skewed societal norms that define how a person “should look” in a healthy, positive manner.

As evidenced by this report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, playing with kids also reinforces the strong bonds they have with their parents and teachers, bonds that offer unwavering love and support. This supportive foundation helps kids develop resiliency, optimism, and the ability to bounce back from adversity, traits that are important for facing future challenges.