By: Dr. Michelle MD
|The summer is over. The streets are filling up with the families returning
from summer vacations. The activities of summer, running, playing and swimming,
have given every child a healthy glow. They have built up their muscles
and grown taller and leaner as they spent many hours outdoors. These boys
and girls have gained a little head start in the race against childhood
and even adult obesity. Now is the time to think about how we can give our
children the ability to hold on to the gains of the summer.
As school begins the younger children are going to be spending full days
in school buildings with very little play space. The older girls and boys
will be studying until almost bedtime, with very little time for physical
activity. Many mothers report to me that the first few weeks after the summer
the children are moody and irritable. The freedom of outdoor play is no
longer possible. The physical energy that was burned off each day during
the active vacation days becomes pent up causing an emotional letdown.
There are certain steps we can take to help our boys and girls adjust to
the school routine, remain leaner and at the same time, maintain the healthy
bones and muscles developed during the summer.
Exercise is not a luxury. It is a requirement. Every one needs it for both
physical and emotional health to be maintained. As a child’s body
grows, the stress and strain put on the muscles and bones during activity
makes them grow straighter and stronger.
Did you ever see a leg right after a cast was removed? It is much skinnier
and weaker. This loss of muscle, called atrophy, is caused by lack
of use. The same thing happens, in a more subtle way, when children do not
get enough physical activity during the school year. Within a few weeks
the inactive child becomes weaker, flabbier, and more likely to put on excess
weight. The health gains of summer are lost.
The easiest and best exercise is walking. Instead of riding buses, they
should walk to school and back if they live within a mile of school (the
new knapsacks on wheels could be used to lighten the book load). Even the
little kids could be walked by older kids or walking monitors. They should
also walk to friends and shopping. The walk will be refreshing and invigorating,
helping the kids to burn off energy in a healthy way.
The parents and the school administrators should consider giving higher
priority to providing the students with time and opportunity for active
play during the school week. More time could be set aside in the curriculum
for organized play and exercise. In addition to playgrounds and play space
in schools, there are some games and activities that can be played in a
limited space like a lunchroom, hallway or even an empty classroom.
Dancing, foot races, ball games, jumping games like Belts and jump rope,
are all very good. The boys can play running games like various tag games,
snatch the club and even tumbling. The teachers could help to encourage
all of the children participate in these games. Some could even teach them
how to play and make up new games to keep everybody’s interest.
After a really active play period the children will go back to the classroom
energized and much more relaxed and able to focus. Regular vigorous activity
will keep the children strong and healthy throughout the school year. Another
big bonus is that the children will return home at the end of the day much
happier and less likely to act out and fight with each other. They will
also sleep better. Weekends are also good times to get the children moving with planned activities
that they can look forward to, such as swimming and gym programs.
As our children begin the school year, this would be a good time to reassess
the daily diets eaten during the school day. Some teachers have taken upon
themselves to limit at least some of the snacks to “healthy”
snacks in the very young students. This is a very good idea.
It is also very important to make sure that the meals prepared and eaten
in school are well balanced. There should be salads, lean meat or chicken,
fish, low fat dairy foods, whole grain breads, in addition to the standard
noodles and potatoes and fish sticks.
Many mothers tell me they must send packaged snack to school with their
kids because all of the children at school bring them every day. They should
try to give popcorn and pretzels more often than greasy chips and “super
snacks.” It is very important that the number of packaged snacks be
limited to one portion for each snack time allowed.
At home the real junk food should be put away for special parties. If they
don’t have the snack foods available the children will be more amenable
to eating wholesome foods such as fruits and vegetables, string cheese,
chickpeas, grape tomatoes, rice cakes and whole grain crackers when they
This kind of attention paid to the quality and quantity of the food our
families eat will go a long way to fighting obesity. Healthy eating habits,
learned in childhood, will last a lifetime.
As we settle in for the coming school year, we must stop and think now how
we are going to keep the physical and emotional gains our children have
made. Exercise and proper eating habits must be continued all year. The
children’s health and well being are our responsibility. By encouraging
them to eat right and exercise we will give them a chance for a healthier
future. We adults must also set a good example since children learn by watching
their admired adults.
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