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home > training > training tips > back – to – school fitness tips

Back – to – School Fitness Tips
It takes more than “book smarts” to keep children happy and healthy!

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A Walking and Running program for all abilities

Kathrine Switzer's Web Site

By Kathrine Switzer
Posted Wednesday, 17 November, 2004

Kathrine Switzer is the author of Running and Walking for Women Over 40 (St. martin’s Press), an Emmy-award winning TV commentator and a former winner of the New York City Marathon. This is second in a series of her proven tips to encourage women to Take Fitness to Heart.

As the nation’s schools open their doors, there may be changes in the “student body.” More than ever before, many children and youth will be overweight. And the implications are devastating – unchecked obesity at a young age escalates into years of poor health, especially increasing the likelihood of diabetes and heart disease in later life. In addition, a major consequence of obesity in children is a lack of confidence and self-esteem.

Kathrine Switzer offers simple tips to help parents develop a regular fitness routine for their children and healthy habits that will last a lifetime, both in and out of the classroom.

Reinforce a positive body image. Exercise should be about fun; not about looking like someone they will never be. Never embarrass or belittle children. First get the kids moving, showing them that regardless of body type, there are fun things to do and goals they can reach. Physical affection is also important, so hug your children a lot.

Have computer and TV blackout times and schedules regular exercise time periods. Children and teenagers spend many hours on their computers, working on school assignments or chatting with their friends online. In addition, they watch numerous television programs during the week. Make sure kids get up to stretch and get exercise. Schedule time for them to go outside to play with friends or take a walk with a parent, by themselves or with the family pet, who could also benefit from a workout.

Help kids organize walking groups. Encourage children to walk to and from school in groups. Parents can also create a “walking bus” in their neighborhood, walking kids from “stop to stop”, picking up children as they go. Long routes can have kids getting on their school bus at a later stop. Designated parents each cover part of the route.

Save money. Unlike many other activities for children, walking and running are two of the most accessible and affordable forms of exercise for kids. All it takes is a good pair of sneakers and getting out the door!

Encourage sports participation. Children should get involved in sports through school teams and activities, and community sports organizations and events. It builds self-confidence and introduces them to new interests they can expand later. Parent can also send their children to a sports camp where they can learn a variety of activities such as camping and team play. Family vacations that include sports activities such as hiking or swimming are also good for children.

Be a vocal advocate in your child’s school for regular exercise. Lobby strongly for daily physical education classes at school. Work with concerned and active teachers to organize kid’s walks or runs. Be creative!

Make exercise a fun priority for the entire family. Take children, preteens or teenagers on early morning or evening walks. By making it a family activity not only will you ensure that your children are engaging in a healthy activity but you also get some quality time together. They can bike or roller blade alongside, too. You will set a good example and establish healthy habits for a lifetime.

Eliminate junk food form children’s diets. Kids are always hungry and they’ll eat whatever is available. So substitute popcorn for chips, peanut butter for hot dogs, fig newtons for cake and skim milk and juice for soft drinks. Teach children good eating habits and don't make food a reward or emotional issue.

Always make exercise fun—never as a “duty” or as a punishment. Parents who push kids into boring routines or coaches who make kids run laps for punishment are turning kids off early to a lifetime fitness program. Children love to run and play, so find a safe place for them. Create games and contests to motivate and reward them.

National experts agree: Exercise is vital to children’s physical and emotional well-being. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

Over the past 30 years the percent of overweight children aged 6 to 11 has more than doubled.
Nearly half of American youth ages 12-21 years in the United States are not vigorously active on a regular basis and approximately 14% of young people report no recent physical activity.
Overweight children are more likely to become obsese adults. Overweight and obese adults are at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer and gall bladder disease.

The American Heart Association recommends: a combination of both moderate and vigorous physical activity at least 3-4 days a week for both children and adults to achieve cardiovascular fitness.

Take care of your kids; they have their whole lives ahead of them.

This is the third in a series of tips appearing on Cool Running on a regular basis, written by Kathrine Switzer. Kathrine's web page is now online, is a great read and can be found at



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