Archive for the ‘Children’s Health’ Category


4 Fun Lesson Plans to Keep Kids Active During Physical Activity Month

Monday, May 15th, 2017

 

Kids learning from teacher while sitting in a circle

Today, many schools are reducing their opportunities for physical activity, limiting recess, restricting physical education lessons, and keeping youngsters anchored to their desks for hours each day. Although this might seem like the easiest way to ensure a constant focus on academics, research indicates that physical activity and cognition go hand in hand.

May is officially recognized as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. That makes now the perfect time for schools across the country to begin re-assessing their options for encouraging activity inside and outside of the classroom.

In the past, we at SPARK have drawn attention to the fact that students at every level desperately need movement to thrive in any school setting. Read on to discover some of our simple and effective lesson plans for instant and ongoing classroom physical activity you can start using today.

1. STEM Fitness Training

“STEM” Fitness Training lesson plans focus on fun facts about science, technology, engineering and math, while encouraging physical movement. Using a combination of markers, STEM Fitness Training cards and up-tempo music, teachers can encourage their students to actively pursue a deeper understanding of crucial topics as they get their blood pumping.

STEM Fitness Training involves quick cues, challenges and in-depth discussions between students as they move through aerobic fitness segments that support the mind/body connection. Try using SPARKabc’s Instructional Materials, which include three years of access to SPARKabc’s materials, along with STEM integration solutions, task cards and teaching resources.

2. Social Studies Fitness Relay

The Social Studies Fitness Relay lesson plan looks at the eight basic locomotor skills and helps develop peripheral vision in students. Using markers, the Social Study Fitness Relay state list and state cards, teachers can encourage children to expand their minds and enhance their understanding of crucial topics, while building a healthy vision.

As students spend more time staring at screens with their eyes fixed in distant vision mode, peripheral vision enhancement can help strengthen their eye muscles and improve reading comfort. The instructional materials set contains all the resources educators need to introduce Social Studies Fitness Relay solutions into their classrooms.

3. Nutrition Mix-Up

The Nutrition Mix-Up lesson plan teaches children about the five crucial “MyPlate” food groups, while promoting physical activity. The objective is for each student to identify themselves as a different food. They will then move quickly from one spot to another when the teacher calls their group.

Nutrition Mix-up is a fun and simple lesson solution that helps teachers emphasize the important connections between exercise and diet. The goal is to improve the positive relationships that children have with movement and healthy food, as well as to highlight the impact these elements have on their development and cognition. The Healthy Kids Challenge Wellness Solutions Toolkit can be an incredible supplement to the Nutrition Mix-Up, or any other nutrition-focused lesson plan.

4. Active as Soon as Possible Activities

A full lesson doesn’t need to center around physical activity in order to get students moving. Sometimes teachers will be able to recognize that their students are losing focus or becoming restless. And that’s where Active as Soon as Possible (ASAP) plans come into play. You can incorporate ASAP activities into the lesson plan around the times when children begin to become most lethargic. Each teacher should be able to pinpoint the perfect timing for their class.

Activities such as Invisible Jump Rope and Go Bananas! shake children out of their mid-day slump and get their hearts pumping. The rush of activity ensures an oxygen boost to the brain, which promotes energy and concentration. SPARK musical collections and instructional materials can help craft exciting ASAP activities to engage and revitalize students.

Planning for Physical Activity

As research continues to show the importance of physical activity in relation to brain function, it’s easy to see why teachers should incorporate more movement into their lesson plans. With physical activity lesson plans, educators can ensure that health and fitness don’t take a back seat to education. Instead, academics and activity can blend seamlessly together in an environment that encourages healthier development and better learning for children of all ages.

Keep Kids Heart-Healthy with These Fun Activities

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Heart

Physical inactivity is bad for your heart. Specifically, it’s a risk factor for developing coronary artery diseases, it increases the risk of stroke and can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and low HDL cholesterol (that’s the good kind).

Encouraging your kids to be heart-healthy will help them fight these issues before they happen, and ideally should be part of their school curriculum. By working to establish healthy routines early on, kids are more likely to continue them through their lives.

What Defines a Heart-Healthy Activity for Kids?

 

Most activities that encourage children to move and exercise can be considered heart-healthy. The American Heart Association suggests that kids participate in at least 60 minutes of regular physical activity per day. Examples of activities that would quality include jogging, swimming, dancing, skiing, and kickboxing, as well as many other team sports.

So how does one get kids excited about heart-healthy activities?

Heart-Healthy Activities for Kids

 

Make It Fun

It’s not hard to encourage heart-healthy activities for kids if they happen to be activities that they already enjoy. A few examples:

  • Biking
  • Jumping rope
  • Hopscotch
  • Playing on the playground and running around with friends

Of course, the key here is to make sure that kids get at least 60 minutes total of moderate to vigorous activity. Since kids might lose interest after just a few minutes, it’s important to supplement these fun activities with a little bit of structure.

SPARK Lesson Plans

With structure in mind, and making sure that kids get in the minimum amount of activity each day for heart-healthiness, we’ve created a number of lesson plans to help make this happen. Here are some easy ways to plan heart-healthy activities for kids:

Aerobic Bowling

For this activity, you’ll need 2 spot markers, 2 bowling pins (or lightweight cones), and 1 utility ball for each group of four students.

The object of this game is to teach underhand rolling skills, and to encourage kids to get as many points as possible before hearing a predetermined signal. The bowler rolls the ball to try and knock the pins over. He/she then runs after the ball, and sets up the cones for the next bowler, while the ball retriever retrieves the ball and runs it to the new bowler. Everyone gets a chance to play each role.

Hearty Hoopla

For this activity, you’ll need 4 hoops and 1 beanbag. You create a large activity area with a hoop in each corner. Four groups will participate, with one in each corner.

The object of this game is to collect beanbags from other hoops to bring to your group’s hoop. Movement is determined by a signal, and the group with the most beanbags scores a point for that round.

Hospital Tag

Who doesn’t like a game of tag?

For this activity, you’ll need 4 cones that create the boundary for a large activity area.

The object of this game is to tag as many others as possible, while avoiding being tagged yourself. Upon hearing, “Hospital Tag!” you tag people using a 2-finger tag. If you get tagged, you have to put a bandage (your hand) on your “boo-boo.” The next time you’re tagged, you have to put your other hand on your new “boo-boo.” Finally, if you get tagged a third time, move outside the boundaries to the “hospital,” complete a wellness task, and hop back into the game.

Do your students regularly engage in any of these heart-healthy activities for kids? Or is there something we missed that you’d add to this list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Kids

Friday, December 30th, 2016

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New Year’s resolutions aren’t just for adults. This year’s end, sit down with your children and ask them what they’d like to see happen over the next 12 months.

Setting these goals can be an excellent opportunity to get children thinking about how their decisions affect their long term health and wellbeing. Resolutions that involve goals set around healthy eating, physical activity, school, and self care are all appropriate for kids.

Rather than sitting in solitude and making a list, we suggest making resolution setting a family activity. This can be done by going around in a circle and having each member of your family say something they’re proud of and something they’d like to improve. This creates a positive environment in which to goal set, and builds on a child’s ability to be self aware and reflect on the year that has passed. PBS also recommends setting family resolutions, such as pledging to eat a healthy dinner together every Friday night or going on a long hike once a month.

Inappropriate resolutions for children are ones that set out an unhealthy body image. While “lose weight” was the number one resolution for adults in 2016, children should be discouraged from setting a similar goal. Establishing an idea like “I need to lose weight” in a child can be damaging, especially as that child becomes a young adult. So even if losing weight is your resolution as a parent, avoid bringing that up with your child. Instead, resolutions should be linked to proactive and positive goals.

Without further ado, here are some healthy New Year’s Resolutions to set with your children this year, divided into the four categories listed above.

Healthy Eating

Food is possibly the area of their lives where children make the most choices. Parents have the opportunity to guide healthy eating resolutions, classifying food not as “good” or “bad,” but rather as something that should be consumed in moderation. These resolutions should look at alternatives to unhealthy food, and encourage kids to be experimental in their eating.

  • I will try one new food a month, and will finish eating it even if I don’t like the taste;
  • I will go to the grocery store with Dad and pick and eat one fruit that is unknown to me;
  • I will drink water or milk on a daily basis, and save soda and juice for special days;
  • I will eat fruit and vegetables as my afternoon snack rather than chips;
  • I will bring my own healthy snack to the movie theater instead of having Mom buy me popcorn.

If your child needs some healthy eating inspiration, try introducing them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, MyWins resource, which features colorful graphics for food groups and valuable tips for how their plate should be filled.

Another excellent way to get your child more invested in the food they’re eating is to have them help prepare it! Check out Kids Can Cook Gourmet, a food blog that includes video guides on how to make different recipes.

Physical Activity

These are important resolutions, especially at a time when more than one third of American children are considered either overweight or obese. Childhood is the best time to instill the value of physical activity in your child’s life. Why not do that through a few of the New Year’s Resolutions listed below?

  • I will ride my bike to school two days a week;
  • I will find a sport I like doing and join a team in order to play it regularly;
  • I will spend just as much time outside playing as I do on my computer or gaming device;
  • I will participate more in my school’s physical education class.

An excellent way to ensure your child is getting more physical activity is to lead by example. Find activities that you can do together — both your bodies will benefit!

School

These are resolutions aimed at improving a child’s academic performance. It is especially important to stay positive in this category of resolutions — parents should be regularly offering words of support about a child’s school performance and should offer help, when needed. School-based resolutions can include:

  • I will improve my grades in my favorite subject by the end of the school year;
  • I will attend every sport practice this semester;
  • I will ask my teacher for help if I don’t understand something being talked about in class;
  • I will finish all my homework before watching television at night.

If you really want to help your child accomplish their school-based resolution, sit down with their teacher and tell them what your kid has in mind for the year. That way they can nudge your child in the right direction if they’re lacking motivation.

Self and Family

These are resolutions meant to build a child’s sense of responsibility for oneself and one’s community.

This category can include resolutions such as:

  • I will tell an adult when I am feeling sad or upset, rather than keeping those emotions bottled up inside;
  • I will resist peer pressure at school and ask a parent if someone is trying to get me to do something I’m not sure about;
  • I will make Sunday a day for family fun;
  • I will volunteer in my community at least once a month.

Resolution Success

To make each of the above resolutions more attainable, try breaking down the large resolution into a series of smaller steps. For example, if your child’s resolution is to get an A+ in English class by the end of the year, the tiny steps could involve him/her studying every night after school for 15 minutes, reading two books a month, and reviewing every test with a teacher to find areas for improvement.

Creating these smaller steps within a resolution will demonstrate to your child that goal setting is a long term process that requires a lot of work, and isn’t something just accomplished overnight.

4 Ways to Keep Kids Healthy During the Holidays

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

holiday

While most children eagerly await the start of winter break, the time off from school can present a challenging conundrum to parents: in a season when so many activities are centered around eating and indulging, how can we ensure our kids stay healthy during the holidays?

Unlike summer vacation, there aren’t as many camps and organized activities hosted for kids during the holidays. Plus, it’s easy to get cabin fever inside when the days are short and the weather cold — snacking, watching TV, and browsing our computers becomes much more appealing.

Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to encourage your kids to stay active and healthy; from games they can enjoy on their own, to gifts that encourage physical activity, and fun activities that can involve the entire family. Here are a few ideas to get you and your kids started.

1. Wrapping Paper Soccer

This is a creative way to use the leftover gift wrap paper after everyone has opened their presents. Have each child make a small paper ball out of wrapping paper and tape. On cue, have players dribble their own ball around the game area (your living room, for example), and try to kick the ball between another player’s feet (the wrapping paper goalie). You earn a point every time you get the paper ball through the person’s feet. Check out our lesson plan for this game, including a number of additional exercises you can try to make this fun activity even more physical.

2. Go for a Walk

What better way to appreciate holiday family time than heading outside together?

Taking a walk is an easy and inexpensive way to get kids to put down their devices, and leave the house. If you live in a location that has snow, bundle up the kids and head out with a toboggan. Challenge kids to pull one another, dive from the toboggan, and run to jump in again. The snow acts as extra cushioning, so children can leap and fall more than they’d be able to in the summer months.

If the idea of a simple walk isn’t enticing enough to hold their attention, try setting up a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood featuring holiday themed items such as candy canes, strands of lights, and Santa hats. Or, save your stroll for the evening when you can explore the neighborhood as a family, and select your favorite displays of Christmas lights.

Going for a walk can even be as simple as bringing children along to the mall, while you do your holiday shopping. Anything that gets them on their feet and moving is great for their physical and mental health.

3. Toys Alive

There’s a famous scene in the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker, in which the Nutcracker leads his army of toy soldiers into a fierce battle against the Mouse King and his rodent army. Toys Alive is a fun and silly game inspired by that scene.

Set out a large play area (this could be your backyard) and have players scatter themselves. In this game, all players pretend to be toys that have come to life, moving around the play area — until someone yells “freeze!” When you hear this word, the players must hold whatever position they’re in for three seconds, until that same person unfreezes them and allows them to move freely once more. This game is great for young kids, as it helps them build their control and balance skills, there are no winners and losers, and there are sure to be plenty of laughs.

4. Paper Plate Aerobics

Too cold to go outside? You can mimic winter sports with just a little bit of imagination, and a set of paper plates.

This activity is called Paper Plate Aerobics, and it involves children shuffling and sliding along the floor, while standing on a plate. Kids can “skate” on their paper plates by sliding one foot at a time forward in a diagonal motion. Encourage them to lean forward into the movement, and hold their hands behind their backs like a classic skater.

Likewise, children can use paper plates to pretend they’re cross country skiing. Standing again on the plates, have your kids try to imitate the movements of a skier — alternating sliding their feet forward and backward, with their arms moving in the opposite direction.

To make each of these activities more fun, pull up a YouTube video of someone skiing or skating, so the kids can keep up with their movements, and pretend they’re skiing in the mountains or in the winter Olympics.

How to Encourage Physical Literacy in Young Children

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

physical literacy

Parents and educators both have a vested interest in children’s literacy. One form of literacy that has become increasingly important as childhood obesity rates have climbed is physical literacy. Physical literacy is the mastering of essential movement skills and object control skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions. By extension, this can enable them to move confidently and command a broad range of situations that involve physical activity, and hopefully, encourage exercise and activity as they age.

The At-Risk Youth

Children are often resourceful by nature, and it’s true that they fall into exercise and physical activity through play time and by virtue of being active and curious youngsters. Despite this, children who are less inclined to engage in physical activity or who are not exposed to structured physical activity could  eventually  become less  competent and less confident movers as their peers. This is where physical literacy becomes a critical skill for early childhood educators to teach young children

A lack of physical literacy can be devastating. When children do not feel confident in their skills or abilities, they are less inclined to nurture their own development. In order for at-risk children to develop the skills needed to engage in physical activity, they must be taught physical activity skills.  

Development and Physical Literacy

Physical Literacy can be achieved using both structured and unstructured activity.

Structured activity is planned and directed. It is designed for a child’s  developmental level.  It is organized activity with an instructional purpose.  Unstructured activity is  self-directed.  It occurs as children explore their environment. It is an opportunity for children to make up games, rules,and play with others.

Physical literacy should be taught developmentally in various stages so that children gradually harness their skills before they progress forward.

In teaching physical literacy, it is crucial to start at fundamental movement levels. As children grow and develop, their muscles and surrounding tissue strengthen, eventually granting them greater control of their bodies. There is a reason why toddlers movements seem unstable. Because young children do not yet have mature enough brain function to control the movements of their bodies, they are unable to coordinate certain movements. One must recognize there is a wide range of motor development between birth and age 7. While some children can achieve success at a skill such as skipping by age 4, there are others who may not achieve success until age 7.

Early Childhood (3-5 and for some to age 7) is the perfect time to teach fundamental basic locomotor and object control skills. Locomotor skills include the basic skills of walking, running, hopping, jumping, side-sliding, leaping and skipping. Object control skills include rolling, tossing, throwing, catching, kicking, and striking. It is important to note that children do not come into this world with the innate knowledge of these skills. these basic locomotor and object control skills must be taught.  Early childhood educators should not try to achieve movement perfection at this age, but exposing young children to opportunities to develop movement skills,  hand-eye coordination,  and foot-eye coordination. When children practice these skills, their level of comfort and confidence increases and their fear decreases.

While young children’s movement and skills develop naturally, there are tools and resources that can help progress the process.

SHAPE America recommends, “Preschoolers should be encouraged to develop competence in fundamental motor skills that will serve as the building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity.“ Therefore, it would be not be recommended that preschoolers engage in organized games or sports because they have not yet developed basic locomotor skills or object control skills that would make the experience successful.  Rather, preschoolers would learn to self toss and catch fluffballs while engaging in an activity such as  catching and counting.

It is important to recognize that lessons and equipment be age appropriate.

The SPARK Early Childhood Physical Activity Program (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) recommends age appropriate equipment that is colorful, lighter, larger, and easier to track for preschoolers along with academically integrated age appropriate lessons to promote physical activity. Music brings life to a physical activity session for young learners as they are naturally drawn to age appropriate movement music.

As children grow and mature, it is important to remember that if a child can’t master skills like running or catching, they are less likely to participate not only in organized sports, but even be included in unorganized play at recess or after school. By exposing  young children to structured physical activity , children are not only building physical skills – they are also building confidence.

Early Childhood is a time of discovery and growth, and with the health and confidence of children at stake, it is critical that children enjoy movement and play. What advice do you have for teaching children about physical literacy? Share your comments in the feedback section below!

 

Big Results in a Short Period of Time

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

New Research on SPARK Middle School PE program Published!

By: Paul Rosengard, SPARK Godfather

Did you know today’s SPARK’s Middle School Physical Education curriculum and teacher training program evolved from the three largest studies of MS PE ever conducted? It’s true. The three National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research projects, M-SPAN (Middle School Physical Education and Nutrition), TAAG (Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls), and The Healthy Study contributed to the exemplary and award-winning program being disseminated today.

While the last of these studies concluded in 2010, middle schools across the country have partnered with local universities to conduct ongoing tests of the SPARK program and better understand its effects on students and teachers.

One such effort titled, “Effect of the SPARK Program on Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Endurance, and Motivation in Middle School Students” was recently published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health*. Several significant takeaways from this paper:

Background: This study examined the effect of a 9-week SPARK Middle School Physical Education program on physical activity levels, cardio-fitness, and motivation of 174 sixth through eighth grade students from two urban, private schools in Salt Lake City, Utah. This intervention group (using SPARK MS PE) was compared to other students in the same grades and schools who continued with their usual physical education program (Controls – referred to in the paper as Traditional group).

Measures: To ascertain student activity levels, students wore high-quality, research-validated pedometers. To determine their levels of cardio-fitness, students were administered the PACER test. To assess students’ motivation and enjoyment of the SPARK activities, they completed questionnaires (Sport Enjoyment Scale).

Results: Despite the very short intervention timeline, students participating in SPARK Middle School PE were more active, increased their cardio-fitness scores, and showed they were more motivated by the SPARK lessons and enjoyed them more than their “usual/traditional” PE program.

Here’s one interesting quote from the paper:

“The results from this study indicate that there were increases in-class PA for both the SPARK and Traditional groups from pre-test to post-test. However, the SPARK group had statistically greater increases on in-class PA compared with the Traditional group in younger children. These results support that SPARK, as an established health-related PE program, was significantly more effective in increasing middle school students’ in-class PA levels than the Traditional program in younger children.”

SPARK wishes to thank the authors, the University of Utah, and the participating schools and teachers for their time and subsequent contribution to the scientific knowledge base.

If your school is conducting research using any components of any SPARK program, please let us know via email, spark@sparkpe.org.

Ready to bring SPARK Middle School Physical Education to your school?

  • Click here to download free sample SPARK Middle School PE Lesson Plans
  • Click here to shop for SPARK Middle School PE curriculum sets
  • Click here to request a proposal for the full SPARK Middle School PE program (professional development training, curriculum, and content-alighted equipment)

*Article citation:

Fu, Y., Gao, Z., Hannon, J.C., Burns, R.D., Brusseau, T.A. (2016). Effect of the SPARK Program on Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Endurance, and Motivation in Middle-School Students. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 13, 534-542.

Click here to access the research article.

Can a Healthier Lifestyle Promote Good Character in Kids?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

character

The early years make up an important developmental phase in any person’s life. Up to the age of 18, we’re constantly learning new habits, information, and behaviors – while establishing foundations that will shape our experiences as an adult. In short, childhood represents both opportunity and vulnerability when it comes to promoting a healthier lifestyle.

For a child to thrive, they need support and stimulation both at home, and in school. Because a healthy lifestyle demands physical activity, child care programs and schools that reduce recess and physical education for children could be damaging their development – stunting their emotional and physical growth. Studies have already begun to prove the link between exercise and intelligence, cognition, character development and emotional stability, showing that play is a huge part of the early developmental phase.

Physical Activity Promotes Healthier Characteristics

According to the U.S. Department of Health, children should get no less than one hour of physical activity a day in order to fight back against skyrocketing public issues like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. However, physical benefits are not the only reason behind a child’s need for regular exercise. Numerous studies continue to show a positive correlation between the physical activity level of children, and his or her mental development. Active play gives children an opportunity to explore creativity, while developing their minds, and emotional as well as physical strength.

When children have the chance to participate in organized sports or physical education classes, the basic values they learned during the earliest developmental periods become further emphasized including the values of sharing, working together, and respect. Through participation in physical education, young people learn key values to carry with them throughout their lives, such as:

  • Adherence to rules
  • Respect for themselves and others
  • How to engage in fair play
  • Working as a team
  • Honesty

Physical education also provides a platform that allows young people to learn how to manage competition and cope with winning or losing.

A Healthy Lifestyle Links with Academics

Aside from the social skills that children learn through physical activity, regular exercise benefits a child’s brain in a number of ways, from improved memory to enhanced levels of concentration. Regular activity stimulates the development of new neurons, allowing brain cells to grow which permit better focus and cognitive performance. As a result, children who are in better shape physically also have better academic results than those who do not exercise. At the same time, exercise promotes better sleep, which is another aspect responsible for boosting the formation of the brain.

According to the Delaware Department of Education, students who are more physically fit perform well and behave better during school classes – regardless of their family income, race, gender, or school district. What’s more, research from the University of Illinois revealed the physical activity improves white matter integrity, a factor that links with “superior cognitive performance,” and better communication between different regions of the brain.

Healthier Lifestyles Make Happier Children

Finally, regular physical activity also has a positive impact on the mental health of a child. Numerous studies have shown undeniable relationships between the frequency of a child’s physical activity levels, and their mental health in association with emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. The same phenomenon applies no matter your age – people who have had particularly stressful days often blow off steam after work with an afternoon run.

The reason for this is that physical activity promotes the delivery of endorphins to the brain, elevating the mood. At the same time, getting rid of excess stress with physical activity can help to refresh a child’s system, improving their motivation in class and enhancing their ability to focus on other tasks. Because they have already had an outlet for their stress, children exposed to regular exercise are also less likely to get involved with negative behavior inside and outside of school.

In other words, as a result of physical activity, children are likely to perform better in school, establish friendships, be more mentally healthy, and learn social lessons – all factors important for the future.

Children Need to Move to Develop


In conclusion, physical activity plays a crucial rule in the general development of a child, from establishing motor skills, to ensuring psychological well being, emotional maturity, and cognitive focus. Children who are inactive are more likely to suffer from health problems, and could even be exposed to physical, psychological, and social issues that impact the rest of their lives.

A greater focus on physical education could ensure that children consistently engage in enough physical activity to support brain health, a better lifestyle, and good character.

Protecting Children’s Cardiovascular Health

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

children's cardiovascular health

We’re born with reasonably good levels of heart health, and as we grow, our lifestyle choices, dietary decisions and other habits affect our hearts increasingly over time. Although many people associate heart concerns with the elderly population, research shows that the slippery slope into chronic cardio issues can actually start at a very young age.

Studies show that children throughout the world are approximately 15% less fit than their parents were at the same age, with cardiovascular endurance declining by around 6% per decade. Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study that examined four indications of heart health in children: BMI, diet, blood pressure, and total cholesterol. The study found that out of the sample of 8,961 children between the ages of 2 and 11, not a single child had ideal levels for all aspects of heart health.

If children are unfit in their youth, they’re likely to develop worsening conditions later in life. Since heart disease remains to be the number one killer of Americans today, it’s important to examine the reasons behind children’s declining cardiovascular health and combat this trend by teaching healthy habits.

Lack of Physical Education


In the recent years, schools have been cutting down on physical education classes and recess in an attempt to open up extra time for academic study. This approach could be detrimental not only to the physical, mental, and cognitive development of children; it could be actively putting them at a higher risk for blood pressure problems, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease.

Reduced physical activity in school is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease and chronic diseases like diabetes. Just like for adults, increased levels of physical activity are often associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and increased life expectancy — meaning that the more we cut down on physical education and recess, the more damage we could be doing to our children.

Lack of access to recess and physical education could also correlate with fewer chances to develop crucial social skills at a young age, which may lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety in students.

Poor Dietary Habits


Giving children unlimited access to consumption of sweets and unhealthy foods could lead to literal heartache later in life. In a study regarding sugar consumption, the CDC found that the average teenager consumed around 500 calories worth of processed sugar every day. Teenagers whose calorie intake was made up of more than 30% sugar had higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in their system.

In the past thirty years, childhood obesity levels have doubled, leading to increases in instances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Although it might not be possible to constantly watch over what children are eating, parents and schools can offer more nutritious choices and keep junk food out of easy reach.

Sitting Still for Too Long


Research suggests that too much “static sitting” could be bad for your health, regardless of the amount of exercise you might get at other times. Studies have linked excessive sitting — such as the time students spend sitting still in class — to issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.

One of the largest studies conducted to date involved a sample group of almost 800,000 people, and found that when compared to people who sat less often, people who stayed seated for most of the day had a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a 90% increase of death caused by heart problems. Promoting positive behaviors at school, like encouraging students to get up and move around every hour, can help keep their hearts healthy and instill long-lasting good habits.

Promoting Good Heart Health


While a lot of articles give advice for adults to improve heart health and lower their cholesterol, many ignore the fact that bad habits often start in childhood, creating ill effects that persist throughout the remainder of a person’s life. The American Heart Association encourages adults  to model healthy behaviors for children as early as possible. The recent data revealed about child heart health is a worrying concept, but acts as a reminder that cardiovascular fitness is a lifelong process, not something that should only be considered in adulthood.

Encourage kids to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day — using as many muscle groups as possible — through activities like swimming, running, or cycling. If we fail to inspire children to develop fitness habits through dietary awareness and physical education, we may be robbing them of the resources they need for long-term cardiovascular health.

4 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Sleep

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

child's sleep

Sleep isn’t just a luxury of life – it’s a health requirement for adults and kids alike. When people don’t get enough sleep, it really shows. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, lost productivity and even obesity.

So how much sleep do kids really need? It all depends on their age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends:

  • 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day for newborns, up to 3 months of age
  • 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day for infants, age 4 to 11 months of age
  • 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day for toddlers, age 1 to 2 years old
  • 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day for preschoolers, age 3 to 5 years old
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day for school age kids, age 6 to 13 years old
  • 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teens, age 14 to 17 years old
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day for adults, age 18 and up

So what can parents do to keep their kids in line with the recommendations – particularly if bedtime is usually met with difficulty? Here are a few ways families can make sleep a household priority, with less fuss and fighting.

Stick With Routine

Our bodies respond best to repeated patterns that don’t deviate much from one day to the next. From the time your child gets home from school or child care, have a general schedule for everything from dinner to homework to bath/shower to bedtime. It can be easy to let this routine go over vacations or on the weekends, but you should really try to stick with it. Sleep is just as important on non-school days and if children get too run-down on their days off, it will manifest in lethargy, disinterest and even bad behavior. Set and keep a bedtime – and have the actions that set it up for success.

Work Up to Bedtime

This references the first point, but is a little more specific. As an adult, would you expect to go to a high-energy workout class and then fall asleep five minutes later? The same is true for kids. If they are busy running around up until the clock strikes bedtime, it will take longer for them to fall asleep. Experts now advise parents to shut off all electronics, including TVs, an hour before bedtime. Have your kids play quietly with their non-electronic toys, or read them a book, in those 60 minutes leading up to lights out. Consider the time immediately before bedtime a “warm up” for the success of the rest of the night.

Prioritize Sleep

All parents say they want their kids to sleep well but do their actions add up to that end? It’s important to not overschedule your kids, particularly if those activities stretch into the evening hours. It’s also important to say “no” to events that will cut into the evening routine and to leave events early if there will be a conflict. It’s okay to make rare exceptions but as a whole, keep bedtime and the evening routine a priority on your family calendar.

Monitor Food/Drinks in the Evening
As a general rule of thumb, don’t allow your kids anything with processed sugar after dinner. Kids should never have caffeine, as the stimulant effects can last for hours after it has entered the body. Keep in mind that chocolate has caffeine though not the high amount found in soft drinks or coffee/tea. Make sure your kids, including your teens, know the food and drink rules in the evening and set a good example by following them yourself.

Good sleeping habits take some time to cultivate and there is no quick fix for parents or kids. Establishing consistency and routine – and then making sleep a family priority – will go a long way to better rest in your household, and all of the health benefits that accompany it.

11 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Stress

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Many adults think of childhood as a carefree and enjoyable part of their lives.  However, children can face stressors from many areas, such as schoolwork, social needs, sports/other activities, family issues, and even world news. Sometimes, if parents forget these stressors, children can feel alone and can have trouble meeting their needs. There are a few ways to help children cope with stressful events in their lives.

stress

Think About What Might Be Causing Stress

Remember that children aren’t immune to stressful events happening around them. Children are frequently more sensitive to events and can blame themselves for things they have no responsibility for, such as a divorce or death of a loved one. Additionally, children’s emotional needs can change as they age. For example, physical issues they may not notice at age 5 can become worrisome at age 14.

Take Care of Physical Health Needs

Providing for children’s needs starts with their physical well-being. Children need to have healthy diets, shelter, and safe conditions to allow for better emotional growth. Additionally, pay attention to common physical complaints such as headaches and stomach issues, as these can be physical signs of emotional stress.

Be Sure They Are Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is crucial to giving children the rest they need to develop and grow. The sleep needs of children change as they age, and each child can vary in the amount of sleep they need. As children age, the amount of sleep they need ranges from 8 to 12 hours.

Talk to Your Children

Keep in mind that every child experiences events differently. Be sure to check in with them to see how they are handling events. Before an event happens, consider talking with them about what might happen. If your child is scared of a doctor’s appointment, talk about why people go to doctors and what will probably happen at this appointment. Instead of asking a vague, “what’s wrong?” consider asking about specific issues, such as their teacher or coach.

Treat Their Feelings as Valid

Many well-meaning parents tell children things such as, “don’t worry”, or, “it’ll be okay.” Statements such as these teach children they shouldn’t have these feelings, which can make them reluctant to seek help. Instead, acknowledging their feelings with phrases such as, “You seem worried. What’s happening?” or “That sounds frustrating” validates feelings and gives your children terms and words to express feelings.

Emphasize Learning Instead of Results

When children think of abilities as something “natural”, they can feel frustrated when they face difficulties in these areas. If they find themselves not excelling easily at activities, they can feel inadequate if they have to work at something or fearful of “looking bad” in front of people.  Remind them that even people who make things look easy need to work hard and they make mistakes sometimes.

Schedule “Down Time” and Unstructured Activities

Between school, sports, extracurricular activities, and other planned time, children can feel overbooked with no time to themselves. Children have been shown to exercise creativity and adaptability in unstructured play and time to relax. Try to think about your children’s down time when scheduling their activites.

Help Your Child Find Their Own Solutions

This doesn’t mean you solve problems for them. Instead, ask your children for ways they would approach a problem and help them see the positive and negative aspects of each solution. For example, if they are having a problem with friends, you can discuss different ways to approach the problem or practice how to discuss a problem with friends.

Consider Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can take many shapes, including acting out coping skills, using art, counting, breathing techniques, and physical play. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to current feelings and experiences while creating stillness. There are a few different tools out there, but here is a script that can work for multiple children in different age groups.

Be Patient

Sometimes, children can feel embarrassed of their problems or feelings. It might take your child some time to be able to communicate feelings effectively or share a story. Simply listening to your children and letting them get to what they mean to say in their own time can help children really feel as if their needs matter.

Conclusion

Children of all ages feel stress in their lives from multiple sources. Parents are crucial in teaching children that while stress is a natural part of life, there are activities and thought processes to make it less nerve-racking. This process won’t be instant, but parents and children alike can benefit from thinking of how to manage stressful feelings.

Have you faced stress with your children? How did you help your child cope with these feelings?