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Keeping Kids Healthy and Fit

Children make salads from a salad bar.
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Above: Children make salads from a salad bar.

With childhood obesity increasing at staggering rates, parents and caregivers must play an active role in protecting children's health. Eating healthy foods is a key factor in maintaining their overall wellbeing. But, this has to be balanced with regular physical activity.

Children who are physically active on a regular basis will reap enormous benefits. Studies have shown that they:

* Are less likely to become overweight

* Have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

* Have reduced blood cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure

* Have higher self-esteem and reduced incidences of depression and anxiety

* Are more likely to build strong bones and muscles

* Are more attentive in school

Now that we know why children need to be active, it's time to get them up and moving. Here's how:

1. Focus on fun. You don't have to call it "exercise," just consider it an activity. Find out which ones your child likes and encourage those.

2. Limit TV and computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than "two hours of daily media exposure" for children ages two and older. When they are watching or clicking, make sure they take breaks and move around.

3. Schedule play dates. The key word here is "play." Have your child get together with a friend and play a game of tag, race down the block or kick a ball around.

4. Get fit as a family. Create some funny dance moves. Put up a net and shoot hoops. You could also visit a zoo, play miniature golf or enjoy other activities where a lot of ground is covered on foot.

5. Choose fitness-oriented gifts. For your child's next birthday, consider giving him or her a jump-rope, mini-trampoline, hula-hoop -- something that will encourage movement.

6. Clean up. Chores don't have to be a bore. Sing a silly song with your child as you both wipe tables and counters. See how long both of you can hold a funny face while folding and putting away clothes. Older kids can help wash the car. On a hot day, this can turn into water play.

7. Skip the mall. Go to the playground. Sure, most malls have kids' play areas. But, when the weather is nice, enjoy a local park or playground instead. Fresh air always does a body good; especially a little one.

8. Be a model of fitness. It's much easier to motivate kids to be active, if you lead an active lifestyle. Whether you follow a structured fitness program or are lucky to get in some morning stretches, let them see you moving. It will likely inspire them to do the same.

9. Encourage walking or biking whenever feasible. This is easy to accomplish if you live near stores, libraries or other places you visit regularly. If you live in a remote area, establish a safe route to tour on bike or on foot with your child.

10. Be a fitness advocate at your child's school. Do you know how much physical activity your child gets at school? Now's the time to find out. If you don't like the answer, gather support from other parents to enforce positive changes.

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