Create Healthy Habits When They’re Young

Dr. Michael Ginsberg and a young patient.

Anyone who’s seen children on a playground during recess knows physical activity comes naturally to the young. What might be less apparent is that obesity among children has grown dramatically in the past 30 years and that many are not getting the physical activity they need.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend youth get at least one hour of daily aerobic activity. However, the CDC also reports that more than a third of young people in grades 9–12 don’t get vigorous-intensity physical activity.

NorthBay Center for Primary Care Pediatrician Michael Ginsberg, M.D., believes parents play a vital role in helping their children get the proper amount of physical activity to launch them into lifelong healthy habits.

Toddlers will exercise themselves if given the opportunity. So take them to the playground or park.

~Michael Ginsberg, M.D.

It’s all about age appropriate activities and nutrition. “You can’t tell children under 3 or 4 to do sit-ups or push-ups,” explains Dr. Ginsberg. “Toddlers will exercise themselves if given the opportunity. So take them to the playground or park.”

Pay attention to diet, too. “For little kids—no juice, eat your vegetables and fruits, no fast food and avoid packaged, overly processed foods,” Dr. Ginsberg says.

Ginsberg suggests older children participate in organized sports activities to supplement the exercise they get at school.

“When they get old enough for school, they will get some exercise at recess or in P.E.,” he says. Finding the child an organized after-school sports activity (baseball, gymnastics, swimming, karate) will help their fitness level.

“Kids get the best activity when they go out with a buddy and play basketball or Little League and there’s an added benefit,” he noted.

“They are learning skills (teamwork, obeying rules) and how to exercise,” he says. “Kids don’t come out of the womb knowing how to do push-ups. They have to learn to exercise the right way.”

And Dr. Ginsberg has some words of caution for teenagers and their parents.

While regular physical activity improves strength, builds lean muscle, and decreases body fat, teens need to be careful with exercise and muscle building—particularly boys.

“Teenage boys want to be big men, so they often want to lift weights to build muscle. Unfortunately, their growth plates aren’t closed yet. Until they complete puberty (ages 15–16), their muscles won’t develop until their bones are strong enough to bear them,” Dr. Ginsberg explains. “Any weight lifting needs to be done with supervision from an adult who is familiar with the developing teen body.”

Guide Your Child to Exercise

  • Limit the amount of time children spend with video or
    electronic screens.
  • Get your children involved in organized activities.
  • Running is good. Don’t exercise until exhaustion or injury.
  • Start overweight children with regular walking.
  • Let them exercise in ways that are fun. If they enjoy skate-
    boarding, let them. Just make sure they wear helmets.
  • Never take sports away as a punishment.

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