Promoting Youth Fitness

Youth fitness has steadily declined over the past decade and childhood obesity is at an all-time high. Our younger generations are facing a severe and growing health crisis as they move away from physical activity and towards anything with a screen. Computers, televisions and electronic game screens have captivated our youth and fast food has become a staple in their diet. Vending machines and school lunches are calorie packed, and with tight education budgets, some school districts throughout Ohio have cut physical education and health classes. These and many other factors have decreased the health and fitness of our youth.

How can we reverse this trend?  What can health practitioners and parents do to promote the fitness of our youth and turn the tides of this health crisis? Many say it starts at home – with parents setting limits on screen time and the types of foods that are prepared and served. This is a good start but we must also give parents ways to get their kids moving in a variety of settings, offer programming that is fun for kids and easily accessible, and make these programs affordable and easily reproducible at home. We need to teach kids how to have fun away from the screen and be accountable for their future livelihood. 

To engage the kids in this effort, show them how to access information on fun programming in their area. The suburban newspapers are full of all types of seasonal activities for youth. Here are some ideas to help empower kids to make good activity choices:

  • Dedicate 2 -3 days per week to engage in some sort of physical activity. 
  • Have them identify the types of activities they would like to be involved in and pick one new activity to try.      
  • These activities may be indoor or outdoor and should last at least 30-60 minutes.

Indoor Activity Suggestions

  • Have a family bowling night and invite the kids’ friends.
  • Have the kids put on a weekly dance show for the family. The practice for this alone is fun and can burn many calories.
  • Is there a room that needs painted? Use a lot of drop cloth and let the kids create their own masterpiece. Can a wall in the basement be used for a mural?
  • If they can identify a sport or activity that they would like to try – make that a part of each week.
  • Look in the suburban newspapers and/or local recreation centers for classes or activities that match their interest. This can include karate, basketball, indoor soccer, table tennis, swimming, water polo, etc.

Outdoor Activity Suggestions

  • Walk the dog every day.
  • Go to the driving range and practice hitting, chipping and putting.
  • Find the location for the nearest batting cages and/or putt-putt course for a weekly family outing.
  • Put up a volleyball/badminton net in the backyard and have family/neighborhood tournaments.
  • Take a tennis racquet to the local park and hit balls off a wall – great for practice – and then use a regular tennis court.
  • Take a walk after dinner.
  • Contact your local parks and recreation office for maps of the local bike trails.

Weight bearing exercise is critical for the growth and development of a strong musculoskeletal system.  Kids should be encouraged to engage in a wide variety of activities that challenge not only their bodies but their minds as well.  For those who do not show an interest in organized sports leagues – strength training, racquetball and swimming are all great ways to improve their fitness and their self-confidence.  Local recreation centers have a variety of inexpensive programming geared for kids that are challenging and age-appropriate.

Hectic schedules often force families to eat in fast food restaurants to save time. Weekly meal planning can help reduce this tendency. Crock-pots and grills are great tools for healthy and quick meals. Choose the meals, prepare the ingredients ahead of time and keep them in food storage containers. Make the kids responsible for some aspect of the meal and the clean-up process. This should save time and money and bring the family together as well. Do a little research, take a little time to prepare, and include the kids to allow them to give input on what they would like to try.  Make time to be physically active!

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries in youth, adolescent, and collegiate athletes. Services are available in multiple locations throughout central Ohio. To make an appointment, call 614-355-6000 or request an appointment online.