From Angry Birds to Super Mario Bros., kids today spend more time on their seats than on their feet! Kids, ages six to seventeen, should be exercising at an intensity high enough to raise their heart rate for at least sixty minutes a day, five days a week. Yet, enticing a sedentary child off the couch and away from his or her electronics is like trying to move a mule away from its feedbag.
This explains the ever increasing epidemic of childhood obesity; a serious medical condition that often leads to major health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Overweight children are also targets for bullies at school, which can lead to poor self-esteem and depression.
As childhood obesity continued to rise, something had to be done, and Nintendo Wii did just that with the introduction of exergames. Brilliant! Not only will kids get the exercise they need, they can do it in front of the TV and not have to give up their hunger for electronics; or so we thought.
Scott Owens, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Mississippi, offered Wii Fit games to eight thousand households and put exergames to the test.
Before the video games arrived, the researchers ran fitness tests and used accelerometers to set the baseline of the participants’ normal physical activity. At six and twelve weeks, after the games arrived, measurements were taken again. At the beginning, the Wii Fit was used an average of twenty-two minutes a day for the first six weeks. As the novelty of the new game wore off, however, the game was only utilized four minutes a day during the second six weeks. By the end of the study, health related fitness measures taken before the games arrived were essentially unchanged.
Now I don’t know about you, but when it comes to swinging a real tennis racquet at a real tennis ball as opposed to standing in the middle of the living room, swinging a remote controller at an imaginary tennis ball; well, I just hope no one is looking! As the study proved, physical activity weaned as the novelty of the game wears off quickly.
Kids need tangibles to keep their interest strong, like real tennis racquets, real tennis balls, and playing on a real tennis court with a real opponent – not a monkey.
Although Wii tennis might be a good alternative for a short period of time, perhaps when it’s raining or too hot to play outside, long term, the disadvantages of choosing to stay indoors are many. Aside from losing interest in the game quickly and going back to couch potato status, being outdoors, in the fresh air and sunshine, garners many benefits on its own.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who are obese and have limited sun exposure may be at a high risk for vitamin D deficiencies. Sunshine contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recent research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, in children, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, which results in skeletal deformities.
“As stated by the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, involving your kids in sports, not only offers health benefits, but also offers psychological and social benefits as well. Paul Caccamo, a Harvard graduate, explains that “Sports are more than a game; they are a set of life lessons. Kids growing up without them are really disadvantaged.”
Kids who play sports are more likely to be in shape, learn motor skills, less likely to be overweight, less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, which can be caused by a lack of activity, and are more likely to exercise as adults. Adding to that, they learn time management skills and gain the understanding that one can’t always win in life. Physical activity through sports reduces stress and depression and will teach kids leadership skills, a sense of belonging, and prevents drug and alcohol abuse and the likeliness to begin smoking.
“Health is like money; we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it. ~Josh Billings
So, where do you begin? Eat a rainbow, and that does not mean a packet of Skittles! Red, green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables are a good place to start. It takes 20 minutes or less to steam a pot of vegetables overflowing with all kinds of vitamins and nutrients, and about the same time to bake boneless chicken breasts sprinkled with spices. Grab the organics whenever possible, as well as hormone and antibiotic free proteins, which can be found at almost any grocery store these days. Shop the peripheral of your grocery store (with the exception of the deli and bakery) and keep packaged and processed foods to a minimum. Your family will be healthier and your grocery bill lower. You’re welcome!
Find an outdoor sport; start playing with your children or enroll them in lessons and get them on their feet and off their seat. Tennis, for instance, is a sport that can start at a young age and be carried through to adulthood, and can be played by children or adults at any coordination level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children who play sports in high school are more likely to graduate high school and attend college – bonus!
In the words of Gloria Estefan – “Get on your feet, get up and make it happen; get on your feet, stand up and take some action.” There is no better time to start than now! Get healthy, be happy, and play hard!