So it’s summer, almost, even though we are still seeing snow in the forecast. The kids are out of school, almost. Are they going to spend the whole summer on the couch? In front of the XBOX? Lurking around the house complaining that there is nothing to do? Nope.
You’ve probably heard about the alarming increase in childhood obesity rates, and Montana is no exception — 22.3 percent of Montana high school students are overweight. When kids are overweight, they have an 80 percent chance of being overweight as adults. Being overweight increases a person’s risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Physical activity is a key component to maintaining a healthy weight. More than that, being active is important for your overall physical and mental health.
How much physical activity do kids really need?
Kids and teens should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
Younger children tend to do short bursts of activity followed by short periods of rest. Appropriate activities include running, hopping, skipping, jumping, swimming, dancing, gymnastics, playing on a jungle gym, climbing a tree, taking a short hike and active games like tag and hopscotch. Give them toys that encourage physical activity like balls, kites and jump ropes.
Older kids and teens do more structured and longer activities than younger children. Some good activities are hiking, jogging, rollerblading, skateboarding, swimming, bicycle and scooter riding. Any sports are good, including soccer, field hockey, baseball, softball, basketball and tennis. Older kids also can do push-ups, pull-ups, weightlifting exercises and work with resistance bands.
Be safe. Always provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads or knee pads and ensure that activity is age-appropriate.
What can I do to encourage kids to be more active?
1) Limit screen time to 2 hours a day.
This includes watching TV or movies, using a computer and playing video games. The average American child, age 6 to 12, spends 44 hours per week in front of some kind of electronic screen. That’s no way to spend a summer.
2) It’s Montana—get outside.
Kids are spending twice as much time indoors as they did 20 years ago. For most kids, just being outside increases their level of physical activity. Kids need safe and easily accessible outdoor areas. In addition to the back yard, try one of Helena’s 55 parks.
3) Walk and bike more, drive less.
Think about the places you go daily that are walking or biking distance from your home. Going to the library, playground, park, store or a restaurant? Allow a little extra time and use human power to get there. Encourage older kids to walk or bike to activities instead of driving them there.
4) Be active as a family.
Build physical activity into your family’s routine. Instead of watching TV after dinner, take a walk together. Do yard work and gardening together. Walk the dog. Go to nearby free places like public parks, basketball and tennis courts and play. Age is no barrier.
5) Take a lesson, join a program.
There are numerous area programs and one-time events for kids and families. Want to go on a moonlight hike? Learn to rock climb? Or just know what is going on in your neighborhood park? Take a look at the following websites for local opportunities and ideas:
City of Helena website has information on parks, lessons, trails and more. www.ci.helena.mt.us/play.html
The BikeWalk Helena website has a map of Helena’s bikeways and walkways as well as tips for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists to share the road safely. www.ci.helena.mt.us/
Here’s a great website with many hikes close to town. www.
Helena National Forest surrounds Montana’s Capital City and offers close to one million acres of distinctive landscapes. There are many recreational opportunities. www.fs.fed.us/r1/
Montana Discovery Foundation sponsors nature hikes each month around Helena. They are especially suited for young folks and others who want an opportunity to go slowly and appreciate the surrounding beauty. www.montanadiscovery
The Family Education website offers ideas on fun outdoor activities, safety, and more. http://fun.
The Health Department is working with many area organizations to make Helena a more walkable, bikeable community. To receive the “Way to Go!” e-mail newsletter about these efforts, contact Gail Beckner, gbeckner@
co.lewis-clark.mt.us or 457-8924.
Melanie Reynolds is the Health Officer at the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department. The Health Department’s mission is to improve and protect the health of all Lewis & Clark County residents.