July 1, 2009

Very Active Summers Lead To Healthy Lifestyles

School's out for the summer, and according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.edu), it's important that kids have a good balance of indoor and outdoor activities during this time to maintain a healthy weight.

"Some research has shown that kids gain the most weight during summer vacation, so it's important that parents take an active role in providing opportunities for their children to be physically active," said Dr. Jason Mendoza (http://www.bcm.edu/cnrc/faculty/?PMID=9551), assistant professor of pediatrics at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

In general, children should have at least one hour of physical activity per day, the type of activities that raise their breathing and heart rate. Children ages 2 and up should have no more than two hours of quality media time per day.  Quality media means educational or age-appropriate shows, movies and video or computer games. Children under 2 years of age should have no media time at all.  

"Research also shows that the more television you watch, the more likely you are to be overweight, and this includes children and adults," said Mendoza.

Mendoza discourages allowing children to snack in front of the television because it distracts them from paying attention to how much food they are consuming.  If children do ask for snacks throughout the day, be sure there are many healthy options such as fruits and vegetables available to them. Incorporating these types of snacks early in life can help them choose these items over junk food in the future.  

Although it may be difficult to get children outdoors in the heat, parents can provide indoor activities besides media. For younger children, this may include allowing them to use their imagination by playing around the house, doing arts and crafts activities and reading to them. For older children, parents can arrange summer camps through the school or YMCA and plan simple family activities like preparing meals together or taking evening walks together. Getting children involved in chores is another way to keep them active, said Mendoza.  

For outdoor activities, Mendoza stresses the importance of following safety precautions, such as using sunscreen, drinking plenty of water and wearing proper safety gear.

Parents should set an example for their children about staying active and eating healthy. There are great family-friendly summer activities to take advantage of as well.  Summer is a great time to explore different outdoor activities and try seasonal fruits and vegetables, so be sure to take advantage of these opportunities as a family, he said.


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