Getting kids off to a healthy, active start

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Nearly one in five children in this country is now considered obese. It's a problem that will affect their health and their wallets for years to come.

It's also something that concerns Banner Health pediatrician Russell Horton. “We are seeing, unfortunately, things like Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, all those things we tend to think about at middle age or older. We are seeing it younger and younger, unfortunately."

And Dr. Horton says that can have lifelong effects, both in terms of health and money. “So as you get older, those doctor visits can start to dominate your calendar. And you're spending a lot of money getting medications, seeing specialists, taking medications, taking care of issues that arise."

But the good news is that there is something you can do to take control now. “If you are getting out and doing things, engaging your body, engaging your cardiovascular system, your lungs, every day, that is going to keep you a lot healthier than what we can do with modern medicine.”

Translation? Exercise, says the doctor. “So 60 minutes a day of activity, something that gets your heart rate up," he advises.

Physical therapist Jodi Barnum with Scottsdale Healthcare says what might seem like a workout for adults, is simply seen as play by children. “The aerobics, the weight training, all those things can be accomplished through basic play. If it is a playground and there are monkey bars to climb on, and ladders to climb, they are getting some of that strengthening component. And then in the running around they are getting the cardiovascular component.”

But it is not enough to tell your kids to go out and play, says Dr. Horton. “I think it is important for kids to see their parents making healthy living a priority. If they see that is something their family does that is important to them, they are going to grow up and have those same priorities.”

On the day we talked with him, Dr. Horton was taking part in a smart moves class at Swim Kids USA.

Barnum says things like this class, sports, even fun runs are all great ways to get kids active.
"I think kids tend to respond well to a chart of their activity."

There are easy ways to get kids off and running to a lifetime of health, says Horton. “With 60 minutes a day, they are going to be on their way to a healthy life for the rest of their life.”

Barnum says it is important to make sure kids have the right shoes and equipment for running or sports. Both she and Dr. Horton agree that diet is also important. And again, parents can set a good example and get those habits established early.