Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category


Are Your Students Meeting the Physical Education Guidelines?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

teacher marking off checklist with students in the background

By teaching young minds the proper techniques of physical fitness, educators are better able to instill valuable knowledge that will last a lifetime.

But how close are your students coming to an ideal physical education? Read on to discover the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create the best program for your class this spring.

Emphasize Health-Related Fitness

In the world of physical fitness, two competing practices exist: health-related fitness and performance-related fitness. Performance-related fitness rewards students based on achievement of a specific task; PAG guidelines are not meant to promote this type of competitive education. Instead, a full curriculum based on health-related fitness is endorsed to teach heart-health-conscious kids.

Proper instructions for cardiovascular and muscular fitness allow students to continue to work on their health, regardless of their skill level. While an individual focused on performance-related fitness routines may develop quicker, flashier physical results, they lack proper understanding of what it takes to maintain that level of fitness throughout development.

Choose Individualized Health Goals

Not every student is at the same level of physical fitness, and they aren’t in the same developmental stages at the same time, either. That’s why instead of setting arbitrary goals, like a certain time to run a mile or a certain number of sit-ups in a row, physical education teachers should focus on customized fitness goals.

Educators can promote individualized results for each student by tailoring physical education parameters to their specific wishes and health needs. Not everybody functions the same under the same circumstances. Through proper education, teachers should communicate what questions an individual should ask themselves in order to gain perspective of their desired goal. Some of these questions include, but are not limited to:

  • How physically fit do I want to be?
  • How much weight do I want to lose and keep off?
  • How important is it to me to reduce my risk of heart disease and diabetes?

It’s vital to challenge students to achieve higher levels of physical fitness than their baseline comfort levels without making them feel they aren’t good enough if they can’t reach the same goal as a peer.

Focus on Disease Prevention

One of the main goals of the PAG guidelines is developing fundamental education and an understanding of disease prevention. By fostering proper physical fitness routines, students, as well as adults, have less likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s also crucial to teach students the opposite end of the spectrum: the effects inactivity can have on the human body. By understanding both ends of the spectrum, students are better able to find a balance and ensure sound physical health throughout their lives.

Take the Lifespan Approach

Physical fitness and sports are imperative for children’s healthy growth and development. Exercising the right way for just 60 minutes a day has a huge impact in both the short and long-term, promoting healthy day-to-day habits and encouraging a lifetime of physical activity. Students fully educated by PAG guidelines will be able to take this valuable knowledge and apply it to each stage of their life: adolescence, adulthood, and late adulthood. And it can all start with one well-designed physical education class at school.

With all these benefits, why not update your P.E. classes this National Physical Fitness and Sports Month? Which new lesson plan ideas will inspire you?

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.

5 Ways to Promote Physical Activity Month at Your School

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Young kids in gym uniform follow gym instructor

Today, most parents and educators alike know that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. While encouraging children to spend an hour being active might not seem like much of a challenge, the truth is that we’re living in a world where youngsters are spending more time glued to television screens and rooted to classroom desks.

Around 3 out of 4 children are getting less than an hour of physical activity each day. This problem can link back to a reduced number of physical education classes, diminished recess opportunities, and the fact that children are spending around 30 hours per week on “screen time.”

May is “National Physical Fitness and Sports Month,” which makes it the perfect time for schools to start prioritizing activity and introducing the benefits of regular movement to their students. Here are 5 ways you can celebrate the advantages of an active lifestyle at your school to help develop a culture of fitness for the future.

1. Introduce In-Lesson Physical Activity

Today, school administrators across the United States are restricting opportunities for physical activity in classrooms. In an effort to push more focus on academic achievement, recess has fallen to minutes per day, and physical education classes are becoming increasingly less frequent.

Unfortunately, research suggests that P.E. and recess aren’t just crucial for fighting obesity and other common weight-related health problems, they’re also essential for boosting cognitive development. Regular physical activity promotes greater circulation and blood flow throughout the body, helps to enhance focus, and assists children in performing better academically. One way for teachers to overcome this issue is to build physical activity into their lesson plans.

During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, educators can begin introducing STEM Fitness Training and Social Studies Fitness Relays, designed to get children up and moving while they learn. These solutions can make lessons more fun and engaging, while combining academic achievement with physical fitness.

2. Celebrate Fitness with Special Events

All children love a chance to celebrate something – even physical activity. That’s why National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to get them involved with special days and community events. On May 10, children from around the country can join families and community partners by walking or biking to school. Schools across the U.S. can register their 2017 event to enter into free prize draws for helmets and bikes.

Alongside a “bike or walk to school” day, you can also encourage parents and students in your school to help you come up with additional events and fundraisers. From a jog-a-thon to a hula hooping money-raising event, the whole community can get involved with exercise-friendly fun. What’s more, these fundraising opportunities will give you a chance to build the cash you need to invest in new materials that can help put fitness first.

3. Invest in New Materials

Sometimes, improving the active culture in a school environment is all about making sure you have the right resources. There are various low-cost and high-reward materials available that are already aligned to national and state physical education standards.

Digital programs, music, and even simple task cards can help teachers start developing new curriculums and lesson plans for a more active future. During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, schools could examine the resources they already have by reaching out to fitness experts in the community and the school. A little investment and some research could open the door to dozens of new and healthy educational programs.

4. Get Creative

We’ve already established that teachers don’t need to restrict physical activity to P.E. lessons and recess. The time between lessons can be used to ensure physical activity throughout the whole day, without detracting from instructional periods. For instance, you could:

  • Use fitness activities to get students moving during advisory or homeroom periods.
  • Play uplifting music to promote movement during breaks.
  • Make exercise programs available during lunch periods, as well as before and after school.

5. Encourage Students to Take Charge

Finally, remember that National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is the perfect time for teachers and parents to encourage students to take charge of their own healthy habits. If educators can help children understand the benefits of regular movement and offer interesting ways for them to get active, they’ll be more likely to try it.

Students Taking Charge” is the Action for Healthy Kids framework that allows high school students to find ways to create and lead their own projects for nutrition and physical activity initiatives with help from adults and teachers. Student teams can build their own programs from scratch and transform the way they look at fitness with groups and activities that appeal to them.

In a world where it’s becoming more difficult to engage students in physical activity, allowing them to take control of their fitness is the perfect way to promote positive habits. Don’t miss out on all the advantages of promoting National Physical Fitness and Sports Month at your school.

3 Innovative Physical Education Teaching Techniques

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

physical education

Physical fitness among young people has now found itself at the forefront of society’s scrutiny. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity among children between the ages of 2 and 19 has more than doubled in recent years, leaving students susceptible to the development of diabetes, complex joint issues and a host of other serious health problems.

Many physical fitness educators have taken it upon themselves to drastically reduce these statistics over the course of the next decade. Although the improvements in technology have somewhat contributed to the dangerously sedentary lifestyles of many young people, it can also be harnessed to reverse these health concerns. With instant access to almost anything at any given time, technology can be used to improve fitness and potentially save lives. It’s just a question of how it’s used.

So how can today’s educators create interactive work environments for their physical education classrooms?

Here are 3 modern solutions to fight the current health concerns facing our youth:

1. Modern Wellness-Tracking Technology

One way that educators can make physical wellness more interactive is by implementing fitness monitors, like the Fitbit or the Nuband, into their classes.

These lightweight, wearable activity trackers provide a wide range of real-time data. They can be used to help students become more aware of their body’s processes as a whole, or simply to learn their peak heart rate levels to achieve maximum physical fitness. Electronic activity trackers record step counts, quality of sleep cycles and a host of other personal metrics to ensure that students stay active throughout their developmental years. The attention to detail creates a feeling of ownership, fostering a sense of responsibility to maintain that state of wellness for the future. It is said that children should remain active for at least 60 minutes a day to meet proper health standards. Fitness trackers can help make sure kids reach this simple but vital goal in their P.E. classes, and also in their daily lives.

2. Music and Dance as Motivation

When it comes to movement in physical education, there is no better motivator than music. With this universal truth in mind, educators have developed new teaching methods based on viral dance crazes, like the Cupid Shuffle and the Konami Dance Dance Revolution music game. Not only does learning choreography together create a sense of camaraderie among classmates and teachers, but it also provides a great workout. Students can improve their coordination, strengthen their social interactions with one another and reduce stress levels during exam time.

What P.E. teacher wouldn’t want a class of smiling, dancing students?

3. Active Gaming Platforms

Technology-based hobbies have become so ingrained in the lifestyles of students that we often forget that they can serve as a valuable tool.

Exergames, or active gaming programs, like Hopsports and Kinect Xbox, invite users into a comfortable and familiar environment, while offering an opportunity for moderate-intensity physical activity. The best part about this exercise source is that it can be continued outside of school. Many students have their own gaming consoles and could take their P.E. class inspiration to a whole new level at home.

It is becoming increasingly important for teachers to use every outlet at their disposal to improve the health of their students. Some physical education teachers have found the key to success is utilizing what young people love the most – and, very often, that’s the new advancements in technology. By creating interactive and entertaining lessons with activity tracking, music, dance and gaming, teachers can improve student wellness practices not only in school, but in the decades to follow.

Tips for a Successful Field Day this Spring

Friday, April 7th, 2017

Parachute

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

Every spring all over the world, schools are preparing to put on a Field Day for their students. When done well, Field Days can be an active and fun time for everyone. In this blog, I’ll give those in charge of Field Day some tips to make it successful.

Preparation:

  • Plan well in advance (6-8 weeks minimum). You will need to get approval, get the word out, create materials (e.g. T-shirts, etc.) communicate with staff, volunteers, parents and students about the event.
  • It takes a lot of minds and bodies to put together a successful Field Day. Call for parents and teachers to create a committee to bring ideas, additional volunteers, resources for donations, etc.
  • Invite all parents and community members for their input on making it a fun day for all. Be sure everyone who wants to be involved knows about the meetings.
  • Decide what you need volunteers to do before, during, and after the Field Day (e.g. lead activities, escort students to the bathroom, set-up, take-down, deliver water and supplies, etc.). Use a web sign-up to make it easy for them to choose the tasks they are willing to do and the time slots they can be there for. Examples of these are SignUpGenius and SignUp. Best to have two volunteers per activity so they can support one another. Have a paper version in the front office for folks who are unable to use the web options.
  • Come up with a Field Day theme to pull it all together.
  • Plan the activities with the goals of fun and activity in mind. Keep them simple and age-appropriate.
  • When considering activity ideas, be line conscious: Don’t have kids stand in line for long. A field day should be full of fun and action, not standing around watching others.
  • Listen to feedback for past Field Days. Keep the things that worked and ditch those that didn’t.
  • Consider breaking up the day with a K-2 Field Day in the morning and a 3-5 one in the afternoon.
  • Include water games (if your climate allows). Kids go nuts over these and they are typically a smash hit. Plan to have these near the hose.
  • Think of unique activities that are cooperative in nature, rather than competitive. Have a good mix of activity types.
  • Don’t focus on awards for the “winners.” Field Days are more fun when the focus is on participation, not who was 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
  • Be prepared to adapt activities where necessary to enable all students with disabilities to participate and have fun.
  • Schedule the day to include breaks, rotation, activity names, etc.
  • Create a map to show where each activity will be at the school.
  • Ask for volunteers to photograph the activities and to share photos with parents and teachers.
  • Coordinate classes to create signs for each station.
  • Provide ideas for healthy snacks to serve during Field Day. See if you can help find a donor from a local grocery store or restaurant.
  • Include the school’s nurse or health aide to create a first aid station.
  • The day before, remind children of the importance of being well-rested and fed, and to be dressed for action and fun. Them bringing a towel and change of clothes is also a great idea.

The Day of:

  • Have volunteers set up as much as possible the night before.
  • Have a final meeting with all volunteers prior to the start to cover the main goals of the day and details about safety.
  • Have a large group “Welcome” to Field Day and discuss the rotation and the goals of the Field Day. The focus is on fun and safety. Announce the location of the first aid station.
  • A lot can happen that varies from the plan. It’s OK to adapt and go with the flow, if necessary.
  • Provide enough equipment to maximize participation so lines are short or non-existent.
  • Include breaks for volunteers every 90 minutes or so.
  • For students who are physically unable to participate (injuries, etc.), provide them with a safe task to keep them involved.
  • Work to ensure all children are having a good time. You should see lots of smiles!
  • Prompt volunteers to keep their eyes and ears open (no holding cell phones!) and to catch and stop any inappropriate behavior quickly.

Post Field Day:

  • Clean and dry all equipment and store for next year’s Field Day.
  • Send out a survey for volunteers to give feedback on their experience. Which activities worked? Which didn’t? Why?
  • Send thank you notes to those who volunteered and donated their time and goods.

The keys to a fabulous and fun Field Day are preparation and a focus on fun. It should be a safe and enjoyable day for all!

Click here for more tips and a discount on Field Day equipment, and click here to view Sportime featuring SPARK’s Field Day Activity Guide.

5 Ways to Improve YOUR Health Before Summer

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

by Paul Rosengard

Spring is a time for renewal, and as the green leaves emerge and the weather improves we’re more motivated to be active outdoors.  So how do we press “Play” again after a long winter on “Pause?”  Here are 5 tips I hope you’ll find helpful:

1.  Goal Setting: If you are among the many millions of people who are currently doing very little or nothing in terms of weekly physical activity, you’ll likely benefit from setting a few goals.  Make an appointment with yourself and schedule movement into your life.  You wouldn’t miss a doctor’s appointment right?  So don’t miss that 15 min. you’ve set aside to walk around the block and back.  Every little bit counts – in fact studies have shown that being active in three, 10-minute increments provides nearly the same health benefits as a 30 min. session.

Goal setting should first involve specific days and times for activity.  Write it in your calendar; for example:  Wed. from noon-12:15.  Once you have a specific day and time in mind, write down what you plan to do.  Walk, ride a bike, swim, weight train, garden!  All movement is good movement and it all counts.  As you become consistent – moving a little (10 min.) to a lot (60 min.) almost every day of the week, then consider goals to increase your intensity over time so your heart rate is elevated (Are you breathing harder?  Can you feel your heart beating faster?) during some of your activity sessions.  Goals should be challenging, specific, and realistic. Can you set a physical activity goal that meets those parameters?  Give it a try!

2.  Start slowly: Everyone, young and old, should begin an activity program slowly, allowing our body’s time to acclimate to the change in frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise (FITT principle).  For example, 6 months ago you were running 4-5 miles outside.  Then, winter arrived and you were confined to the great indoors, now using a treadmill or elliptical for your cardio workout.  Fast forward to Spring — you don’t want to throw open the door and hit the dusty trail!  Instead, re-start your running program slowly.  A good rule of thumb (or in this case, foot) is to begin at about 25%.  If you were doing an hour on the treadmill, try jogging for 15 min. – after an appropriate warm-up of course.  Gradually add 5 min. each run (as long as you’re feeling good and your body is cooperating) until you’re at or near the level you were before.

3.  Cross-Train: A lot of people lock in to the one thing they do, and their bodies lock in right with them.  Certainly, we need to do cardio for heart health and resistance training for skeletal health and muscle exertion.  So is a run every 2nd or 3rd day and a weight-training workout 2-3x a week the ideal?  It’s DARN great and if you’re doing it congrats!  And, let’s also think variety.  Mix up your cardio, different running routes (more hills, less hills) and different paces (how about some sprints once a week?).  If you’re in a health club or gym pushing weight on machines around, how bout mixing in some free weight exercises?  Try a TRX system?  Do a day of just body weight/resistance exercises?  It’s easy to get into a rut and keep repeating the same exercises at the same weight, same number of repetitions, in the same sequence.  Try not doing the same workout twice! Your body will respond differently too.  And don’t forget Yoga, Pilates, Body Pump and Zumba classes.  Videos available to check out at a library close to you too!  We have so many different and fun ways to be active and stay healthy and fit.  Viva la difference!

4.  Social Support: While some people are motivated and able to stay consistent with their exercise regimens, most of us benefit from being active with a friend.  If you’re one of these folks, recruit a workout buddy! When there’s someone else counting on you to carpool to a health club, or meet you at a trail for a jog, or rendezvous at a park to shoot some baskets or play tennis or just a game of catch, there’s a much better chance you won’t cancel your activity time.  Plus, you’ll have someone to give you feedback, spot you when you’re bench pressing, and maybe even encouraging you to try something new and different.

5.  Have Fun! As you become more active more opportunities will open up for you.  When was the last time (if ever) you played table tennis?  Badminton?  Pickleball?  These and other activities might be offered at a recreation center not far away.  Check out their schedules and see if there’s a class or league you can participate in and if it looks interesting and fun, sign up!  If you’re a member of a health club or gym, when was the last time you looked at their class schedule?  What about that spinning class you walk past from time to time?  Whatever you do to move, we know that if it’s fun you’ll want to do it more often.

I hope these 5 tips were helpful and you’ll become healthier and happier by making physical activity happen in your life!

Paul Scout 1

Healthy Family Habits for Every Month of the Year

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

True positive change is often not drastic or sweeping. It takes time to modify your family’s lifestyle and create lasting healthy habits. SPARK creates resources for educators to teach kids the importance of physical activity and healthy eating at school, but establishing a healthy routine begins with parents at home.

As you look ahead to the New Year, consider these suggestions to improve the health of your family:

January

Update your gear.

Getting organized is often at the top of the list when we turn the calendar for the New Year. Start by going through your family’s activewear and equipment to toss, recycle, or donate what no longer fits, works, or is used. This leaves room for any new gear you need, like running shoes for growing feet, jump ropes and balls, or even bikes for the family.

February

Get outside.

With the holidays behind us at this point and the cold dreary weather starting to take its toll, your family may want to hibernate inside until spring arrives. But winter inactivity is meant for bears, not humans! Find fun reasons to get outdoors. Winter sports, like skiing or ice skating, are fun for the whole family. Even if you bundle up for a simple daily walk around the neighborhood or play in the snow in the front yard, the fresh air and activity will do everyone some good.

March

Evaluate your family’s sleep habits.

March is the month when an hour of sleep is forever lost as we “spring forward” and set the clocks an hour ahead. But this is a great opportunity to look at the sleep habits of your family, parents included, to ensure that everyone is getting the right amount of rest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call sleep deprivation in America an epidemic that tends to accompany other chronic illness. This month, take a few minutes to improve the sleep habits, and therefore overall health, of your family.

April

Go to a ball game.

April marks the start of America’s favorite pastime as fans flock to baseball stadiums across the country. Taking your family out to the ballpark is an excellent way to get some fresh air and witness some inspiring athletic talent. If baseball isn’t your thing, find a basketball game, tennis match, or track and field meet to attend.

For added benefit, let the pros inspire you to play your own game of baseball (or other sport of your choice) in the backyard or park with the kids. Show them that it’s fun to work up a sweat, strategize, and partake in a little friendly competition just like the big-leaguers. Emphasize the importance of positive sportsmanship and team work for a well-rounded learning experience.

May

Join a gym.

Prepare for months of no school by getting set up at a nearby gym that offers classes and an active play area for kids. While kids certainly need some down time in the months away from everyday studies, resist television takeover. If you work during the day, pick out a few evenings to hit up the gym with your kids so everyone can burn off some of that summer energy.

June

Practice proper sun protection.

Actually, wearing the right sunscreen is important every month of the year—even the ones without much sun. Summer usually brings more opportunities for sun exposure, though, so make sure you are always prepared with sunscreen of at least SPF 30. You should also encourage your kids to wear hats out in the sun and do the same yourself.

July

Discuss oral care.

July is Oral Health Month (February is Children’s Dental Health Month), giving you the perfect opportunity to talk to your family about tooth care and decay prevention. Did you know that tooth decay is the top chronic illness in children? It is admittedly tough to make sure kids are really taking proper care of their teeth and entire mouth, particularly if they are resistant. Take some extra time this month to explain the importance of oral health in your family and to establish good habits.

August

Take up biking.

If you live close enough to your workplace or children’s school, make a commitment to walk or ride there instead of taking the car. You do not have to spend a lot to get the right gear. Check local consignment shops and garage sales for bikes that others have outgrown and then get a few weeks of practice in before the school year begins.

September

Do yard work.

Plain and simple, yard work burns calories and brings families together in a united front. Yard work also teaches responsibility and stewardship.

October

Practice moderation.

Halloween is often viewed as a candy and sweet free-for-all but it can also be a great lesson in portion control. Let your kids pick out their candy favorites and then donate the rest to an organization like Operation Gratitude, which sends it to U.S. troops overseas.

November

Run a turkey trot.

Start your Thanksgiving morning off right by entering a family-friendly Turkey Trot road race. These can be as short as a one-mile walk or as long as a half-marathon. Find the distance that accommodates everyone in the family and then bundle up!

December

Give back and raise awareness.

Find a cause that is close to your family’s heart and donate some time to it. Organizations appreciate donations of cash, clothing, and other household items of course, but actually working for the cause helps your kids really see the impact. Whether by sorting canned goods or sweeping out a shelter animal’s crate, find an active way to give back during the holiday season.

Making minor changes over time is the best way to establish healthy family habits and teach your kids about lifelong wellness. Start the year off right with the determination to stay active and you will be healthier overall come January 1, 2015.

Fitness Holiday Gift Ideas

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Looking for some healthy holiday gift ideas?  How about some fitness gifts for YOU and for the Kids?

Click Here to shop in the SPARKstore, and don’t forget about the SPARK Holiday Discount!

 

Fitness Gift Ideas for YOU

Resistance Bands: Great for stretching & strength training (Click Here)

Yoga Mat: What a stress relief!  (Click Here)

Medicine Balls: Multiple workout options for arms, shoulders, and core-strengthening (Click Here)

Bar Weights: Foam-covered weight bar that brings an innovative twist to juice up your routines! (Click Here)

Shoulder Folders: Every Physical Education Teacher’s dream gift!  (Click Here)

 

Fitness Gift Ideas for the Kids

Hands-On Basketball: Designed by kids, for kids! (Click Here)

Football Trainer: The soft tip eliminates the fear factor and makes this ball fun for everyone (Click Here)

Jump Ropes: Jump for fitness, jump for joy! (Click Here)

Ribbon Wands: Encourage creativity and add some flair to that dance routine! (Click Here)

Flying Disc: A classic that never goes out of style (Click Here)

8 Ways to Improve Your Health by the End of the Year

Friday, December 6th, 2013

When January 1 rolls around, we are often more determined than ever to get fit and feel great. Research shows that only 8 percent of us actually achieve New Year’s resolutions, however. The main reason? We make dreamy resolutions but fail to follow up with the planning and work needed to achieve them.

Instead of waiting to make a New Year’s resolution when it comes to your health, get ahead of the game. Decide that instead of letting the holiday season get the best of you, you are going to get a jump start on a healthier 2014.

Ways To Improve Health - SPARKTake these 8 suggestions from SPARK to improve the whole family’s health by the New Year:

  • Just move. Our bodies were made for movement. Whether you take a family walk for an hour after dinner each evening, set the mood for the day with a morning yoga session, or even include some of SPARK’s lesson plans during playtime with your kids, just get moving. Park your car away from the crowds and put in a few extra steps when doing holiday shopping. Institute a friendly family football game each Sunday and teach the little ones how to throw a perfect spiral. If the holiday season seems too hectic to fit in a workout, think again! Movement in your everyday life counts.
  • Eat smart. There will be plenty of invitations to parties and gatherings this season, and you should definitely make the most of those and attend. But that doesn’t mean you have to fill your plate with the highest-calorie goodies at the serving table in the name of good cheer. Pack portable, protein-rich snacks for marathon shopping sessions rather than making a stop at the mall’s cafeteria. Gracefully turn down invites to go out to lunch with co-workers or bring your own meal packed from home along with you. There are so many delicious temptations during the holiday season, so save your splurging for the times when it means the most.
  • Buy an activity tracker. Many people track what they eat when they are trying to lose weight—but have you ever thought about keeping an eye on your activity levels? Upgrade your basic pedometer to a device like our very own Polar Active Monitor Watch that tracks all daily activity and progress. Some monitors even track sleep and have calorie-monitoring capability. When you have a high-calorie day, add some time onto your workout or take a long walk in your neighborhood. Don’t assume that your activity level is high enough to counteract what you consume. Have a device that tracks it for you and gives insight into your habits, helping you make healthy changes.
  • Drink more water. Of course, replacing calorie-laden beverages like soda with water is an instant health boost, but there are even more reasons to stay hydrated. People often mistake thirst with hunger and eat when they should really be pouring themselves a nice tall glass of water. Hydration can also boost immunity and energy level, a must during the fall and winter seasons. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water in ounces to equal half of your weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water every day.
  • Replace sedentary habits with active ones. Keep a journal each day that charts how much activity you get in a 24-hour period. Write down the amount of time you spend watching television on the couch, sitting at your office desk, and sleeping. Take a look at your typical habits after you’ve recorded them and look for ways to replace some of the sedentary stuff with an activity. Just four five-minute breaks from your desk for a brief walk add up to an hour and 40 minutes every week. Schedule gym visits during your favorite shows and watch them from a treadmill. You do not need to be on your feet every waking hour, but make minor adjustments to maximize your activity levels.
  • Improve sleep habits. Sleep is an incredibly overlooked but very important component of overall health. The Centers for Disease Control have declared American sleep deprivation a health epidemic because of its prevalence and negative health outcomes. Adults generally need eight hours of sleep to perform their best the next day. If you have trouble nodding off when your body is tired, take a look at what habits may be causing it. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening and be sure to get that physical activity that makes for a good night’s rest. Consistent sleep will improve your entire quality of life so make it a priority going into the New Year.
  • Reduce stress. Stress is a part of life. That means stress management is a part of life. Try to approach every situation with a rational attitude and avoid negative thought patterns. What’s causing your stress? It’s a problem that needs a solution—and the solution is as simple as writing down what needs to be done to make the problem go away, and then following through. Practicing yoga, joining a church group, or simply taking a few minutes every morning to meditate will help keep your stress level low. Exercise, restful sleep, and a healthy diet help you manage stress too—see how it’s all connected?

Maintaining your health is a lifelong process, but there is certainly no reason to wait for January 1st to make some improvements. Instead of letting the holiday season steal your health, decide to make some changes now that will set you up for a successful 2014 and help you enjoy the holidays more.

How do you plan to tackle health goals this holiday season?

How to Create an Anything-but-Sedentary Summer Vacation

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

This summer, instead of lounging around in front of the TV bingeing on chips and soda, create an anything-but-sedentary summer vacation for your family—and yourself.

It’s easier than ever to spend hours and hours sitting in a living room not moving, much to the detriment of your kids’ health and wellness. However, there are ways to get them up and outside again.

Here are some of the best strategies you can use to create a fun, fitness-filled summer vacation for your entire family.Hoop

Change the Environment

The biggest reason your kids watch that giant HD TV and play Call of Duty on Xbox Live is because it’s right there, and it’s easy. In fact, video games aren’t just in your home, they’re in your driveway, on your block and at your schools and summer camps.

Obviously, video games aren’t the only reason our kids sit inside all day. There are tons of factors like the weather and the examples they follow.

Examples that we set, even if we don’t realize it.

Change the Habit

Our children follow us more closely than we think. There is plenty of evidence that suggests our kids mimic bad behaviors like smoking, so why wouldn’t they mimic our good behaviors?

The simple act of taking your family on a bike ride, or a walk in the park, or down to the basketball court to shoot some hoops can have a profound impact on how they want to spend their own free time this summer and their future summers too. Especially if they see that patented hook shot you learned back in high school when you were the starting forward for your team (and just like that, you’ve made an impression).

You’ll also create memories that your kids will look back on throughout their lives. We can all surely remember a time when our parents took us camping, or swimming at the lake way up state, or down to the park to play soccer with the neighbors. Pass on those fond memories to your own kids.

Reinvent the Menu

It’s great that you’ll get out and spend some time together as a family, but what happens when you get back home? The food you eat has just as much impact on your family’s well-being as physical exercise.

It’s easy to get back home and wolf down soda and hotdogs and chips—it’s summer after all, and nothing beats grilling outdoors in the afternoon.

Try to choose healthy sides and entrees as often as you can. Obviously you won’t eat vegetarian meals every day, but a break from the pre-packaged, high-fructose, full-of-preservatives stuff is paramount. Nothing beats eating local fruits and vegetables, especially when you grow them in your own garden. The summer months are perfect for gardening, and it’s another chance to spend some time outside.

By serving healthy portions of healthy foods, you’re giving your kids’ a chance to develop into strong, athletic people. Oh, and healthy food makes us smarter too.

Preventing Recidivism

We all know what happens when we jump on the diet train; eventually, we fall off. However, when it comes to our kids, we’d do well to stay on the health and wellness train for life. So how do we keep these habits fresh and interesting for our ever-tempted youth?

Put an exclamation point on your summer vacation with an actual “vacation!” to somewhere fun that requires a bit of physical fitness. For example, if you head to the beach, rent a couple of cruisers and ride up and down the boardwalk, play some beach volleyball, and avoid eating at the breakfast buffet every morning. If you stay local and head to a state park, get out of the hammock and walk a few miles of trails.

When your kids see how much fun an active summer vacation is, unplug the TV. They won’t need it any more.

“Basketball Sky” Photo Credit: Chris Metcalf