Playing active games with the kids has never been so virtuous. Nor has it ever been quite so necessary. Most Canadian children -- an astonishing 66 per cent -- are simply not getting enough exercise for optimum health and growth. This figure increases to 82 per cent among Canadian teens aged 12 to 19. An alarming 25 per cent of Canadian kids are overweight, and the rate of childhood obesity has tripled since 1981.
How to keep your kids healthy
The good news, however, is that keeping your kids fit and healthy can be both fun and easy. "Making a few changes to your family routine will go a long way to improving the physical and emotional health of your children and your family," says Dr. Anthony Graham, director of ambulatory care in the division of cardiology, heart and vascular disease at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The single best change you can make is to start to play, play, play. According to Mark Tremblay, the chairman of Active Healthy Kids Canada: "For lifelong health, physical activity needs to be 'lifestyle embedded.' We need to get smaller but more frequent bouts of activity into our days by engaging in free play and doing chores -- doing what I like to call 'domestic recreation.' We have to reintroduce activity into everyday life and make it fun."
Phil Delaire, the manager of fitness and high performance and a certified personal trainer at the Granite Club in Toronto, agrees. "You have to get the whole family on side. The trick is to help kids see that the things they do today -- the food they eat, the amount of exercise they get -- will affect their future health and well-being."
How to get your kids active
For Pauline Willett, mother of three children, aged 14, 12 and nine, it's a matter of making family outings part of the regular routine. "Every weekend, rain or shine, we take a long walk together," says Pauline. It has not only made the family more fit but also brought them closer together. "The kids tell me what's going on in their lives. We talk about what the 'mean girls' said at school and debate whether Hilary is hotter than Britney. I get to tell them how I feel about nose rings (Yuck!) and henna tattoos (Wow!). We learn from each other and laugh a lot, too."
Other families bike or swim together or play shinny in the street. Some do yard work or turn household chores into beat-the-clock family games. Others add activity by parking at the farthest corner of the parking lot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking the kids to school instead of driving.
Doing any of these activities is good. Doing all of them is even better. But whatever form of exercise you choose, if it keeps your clan off of that Corrosive Couch, it's building a foundation of good health for your kids -- and for you, too.
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