March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Being active at an early age can lead to a lifelong habit of physical activity and promote a healthy weight throughout adolescence and adulthood. Children who participate in exercise can develop a variety of physical, mental and social skills in fun, playful ways, including team sports, bike riding or just playing tag.
Children and teenagers should be physically active for 60 minutes every day, or most days. Parents can help teach these skills and reinforce the importance of the physical activity part of the equation by being good role models. According to a study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, children chose parents — not celebrities or sports figures — as their number one role model, regardless of the child's age. Parents can model healthy habits by finding ways to be active in their daily routines and making activity a household priority.
Put Action in Your Lifestyle
Regular physical activity is just as important to a healthful lifestyle as smart eating. Apply the same principles of variety, balance and moderation to both your food choices and your physical activities.
- Variety. Enjoy many different activities to move different muscles, such as power walking for your heart and leg muscles, gardening for arm muscles and sit-ups for abdominal muscles.
- Balance. Because different activities have different benefits, balance your physical activity pattern. For overall fitness, choose activities that build cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, bone strength and flexibility.
- Moderation. Move enough to keep fit without overdoing it. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most, and preferably all, days of the week will do.
The Benefits of Active Living
A study published in the January 2007 Journal of the American Dietetic Association finds children who watch more television, eat fewer family meals and live in neighborhoods perceived by their parents as less safe for outdoor play are more likely to be overweight.
Parents and caregivers can encourage active play with these tips:
- Balance sedentary play (such as reading together) with plenty of active play.
- Choose day care that makes safe, active play a priority.
- Set aside time each day for active play together, perhaps tossing a ball, playing tag or taking a family walk.
- Designate an inside and an outside area that's safe, where your child can freely jump, roll and tumble.
- Pick toys that "move" — a ball or tricycle.
- Join a play group together.