Choose an active lifestyle for your kids

by Julie Snyder

Active KidsChildhood obesity has become an epidemic. More kids than ever come away from their pediatrician appointment with a diagnosis you'd expect in a much older person -- disorders like adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

Today nearly one-third of all children are overweight or obese. According to the Mayo Clinic Staff, one of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the diet and exercise habits of your entire family.

Promoting an active lifestyle

Wellness fairs

Wellness programs and fairs help schools and communities create awareness for good health and more active lifestyles. You're apt to see blood pressure test and other screening that don't grab a child's attention. Keep looking. Other booths will intrigue and instruct the younger set, such as these:

How much sugar? The demonstrator held a handful of sugar packets in one hand and a soda from a fast food restaurant in the other. She asked the kids how much sugar they thought was in the drink. Their jaws dropped right along with those taped together packets. The answer -- almost 30 inches worth of sugar.

The firefighters' challenge: The kids get to put on a fire jacket and hat and then haul a fire hose around an obstacle course, with a little help. Now that's a good workout!

Make your own trail mix: We each got to make a batch of trail mix, choosing from a variety of ingredients. Some of us ate it right on the spot and others saved theirs for later.

Walk to school month

Schools worldwide will be participating during International Walk to School Month in October.

The walking school bus: You might picture a big, yellow bus with children climbing on and taking a seat. That's not a lot of exercise, so you may be asking, "Just what is a walking school bus?"

It's a group of kids walking to school with one or more adults. That's part of the beauty of the walking school bus. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their kids to school, or as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a schedule of trained volunteers to accompany the walkers.

Tracking activity: In your district, students may be asked to keep track of their physical activity. On districts passed out pedometers to each student so they could log their daily steps.

School emphasis on fitness can include classes in dance, martial arts, and fitness classes such as zumba or yoga. Other planned events include 5K runs and 2K walks, and walking and Couch to 5K after school clubs.

Walking to and from school with your child gives you the added benefit of twice the walking. It allows the whole family, including younger children, to get into the active habit as well. Take them out of the stroller and have them walk least part of the way. Exercise for a healthy heart is recommended to be at least 30 minutes a day of cardio per day.

The goal of this month long event is to raise awareness and incorporate this practice as a permanent lifestyle change. Living Streets Organization3 hopes every child who can walk to school does so.

The 5-2-1-0 wellness program

5-2-1-0 is designed to encourage smart eating and physical activity for children and families.

If you can remember those four numbers, you can remember a great way for you and your family to eat healthy and be active. Here's what it means:

5 -- Eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables every day.
2 -- Limit TV and computer screen time to 2 hours or less every day.
1 -- Get at least 1 hour of moderate physical activity each day or 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 times a week.
0 -- Go for almost 0 sugar-sweetened drinks every day. Restrict soda pop, sports drinks, and fruit
drinks. Instead, drink water and 3 to 4 servings a day of skim or 1% milk.

Join in the battle to reverse the childhood obesity trend. Will you and your family be falling into step on Walk to School Month, either individually or as part of a walking school bus?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.