Recent research has shown that regular exercise participation is extremely low among all age groups, but some local schools and parents are working to change that among school-aged children.
By Wayne L. Westcott
For The Patriot Ledger
Several years ago, I was research chairman for a national youth fitness association that was installing well-equipped exercise centers in school systems across America. When I asked Dr. Ken Cooper, the famous physician who wrote the best-selling aerobics book in 1968 that spawned a national fitness revolution, if he would join my committee he replied with a statement that shocked me. He said, “Yes, because I have almost given up on changing the lifestyles of sedentary adults. Our only hope for a healthy nation is to promote physical activity in children.” Although Dr. Cooper’s comments took me by surprise, recent research has shown that regular exercise participation is extremely low among all age groups. Based on an activity level equivalent to walking at just 2.5 miles per hour, a total of 30 minutes a day, for 5 days a week, only about 4 percent of adults, 8 percent of teens, and 40 percent of pre-adolescents actually attain this relatively small amount of exercise.
Fortunately, a determined mother Kathleen Tullie and the Reebok Foundation are making a profound, positive impact on this situation. In 2010 Kathleen developed BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success), a free before-school physical activity program that aims to get elementary school children moving in the morning and their brains ready for a day of learning. The program involves a variety of large muscle movement and exercise to address cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, joint flexibility, motor skills, dynamic balance, agility, coordination, and nutrition. Found in more than 1,200 schools across the United States, including many in the South Shore, the BOKS team provides free training and support to parent and teacher volunteers who want to get the program started in their community. My Quincy College Exercise Science colleagues and students are assessing the effectiveness of the BOKS program in the Weymouth Public School System. We have been very impressed with the 140 elementary age students who come to the Academy Avenue School almost an hour earlier than required to exercise.
If your children do not have access to BOKS, you could follow the example of my professional colleague, Doug Werner, who started a before-school home fitness program with his daughter. Through a regular protocol of walking together and performing a few basic exercises, Abbie completely changed her lifestyle and went from a very low level of physical fitness to a very high level of physical fitness. My friend documented his daughter’s progress, which led to the publication of a short but powerful book on simple home fitness training, Abbie Gets Fit, which is endorsed by ACE Fitness magazine.
With Doug’s permission, I would like to share seven of his well-conceived recommendations for adding more physical activity to your child’s lifestyle.
- Make time for before-school exercise by going to bed an hour earlier and getting up an hour earlier.
- Give your child a pedometer and set progressive goals for steps taken on a daily basis.
- Establish a basic daily exercise routine for the family, with input from each member.
- Set aside some time every weekend for family fitness outings such as hiking, bicycling, swimming, skating, etc.
- Set a family goal to complete a minimum number of walking or jogging events together over the course of a year.
- When watching a sporting event on television, take brief exercise breaks during long commercials and go outside during half-time to perform some of the game skills, such as passing, catching and running the football.
- When going relatively short distances such as a nearby store or a friend’s home, walk or bike rather than use the car.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science and directs the Health and Fitness Center at Quincy College. He also consults for the South Shore YMCA, and has written 25 books on physical fitness.