Colorful kid header graphic

Helping kids move to better health

October 14, 2012 Karen Ehrens

From time to time, BlueInsight will feature guest bloggers. Karen Ehrens is a health and nutrition consultant, registered dietitian and policy advocate. She works to connect people to health and wellness through communication, coordination, advocacy, food and nutrition.

As parents we want the best for our kids. We probably know that getting kids moving is good for them. But we get to the end of some of our days and find out that our kids have not moved enough, or at all. So much to do, and so little time, it seems.

Karen Ehrens photo

Karen Ehrens is a consultant to Healthy North Dakota.

Most of us are probably aware that physical activity, moving more, is good for us and good for our kids. Getting enough physical activity each day helps children be strong and keep going, helps build healthy bones and muscles, and helps them keep at a healthy weight. Moving more is not only good for our bodies, it's good for our heads. Moving more helps decrease anxiety and stress and increase self-esteem in children. And one more benefit: kids who move more do better in school.

 The gradual erosion of time children spend being active and playing has come from many fronts:

  • Fears or perceived fears that children are not safe playing outside by themselves or walking/biking to and from school.
  • More opportunities to occupy our minds in front of all kinds of screens.
  • The belief that to pass tests at school, recess time needs to be shortened or eliminated.
  • The way we have planned our cities and towns and built roads and sidewalks leads many parents to drive their kids to school.

While thinking about walking to school, a vivid memory came to my mind. I remembered walking home from school in the early spring watching the snowmelt run in the gutter. I walked next to it in the street. I remember feeling my cold, wet hands and feet. I still recall hearing the sounds the water made running over uneven surfaces and bubbling over rocks and sticks. In my mind I see the water ebb and flow, watching backwater puddles form around sand and pebbles. My brother and I used our imaginations to launch boats made of sticks and make dams out of icy snow chunks, rocks and twigs. This was not "exercise," it was just how we grew up. To this day I love to be active outdoors.

We have a problem on our hands — nearly half of North Dakota kids are not moving enough every day. One-fourth of them are spending three or more hours each day in front of screens outside of schoolwork and one-fourth of our children are overweight or obese. During the last decade, the number of children who report feeling sad or helpless and the number who consider or attempt suicide is increasing.

kids playing photo

Regardless of the season, be physically active with your kids.

In order to make changes for the good, to get kids moving and learning and feeling good, it is going to take all of us working together! Blue Cross, Blue Shield of North Dakota is taking steps in this direction by promoting recess in schools with the Recess Yes! program and promotions. Community coalitions like Go! Bismarck Mandan, the Cass Clay Healthy People Initiative and the Barnes On the Move Partnership in Valley City are all working to make it easier for people to be active in their daily lives.

Parents can help our kids be more active by letting them experience walking or biking to school. If it is too far, you can drop your child off a few blocks from school. If you are concerned about safety, talk to your school leaders or the police department; you may find it is not nearly as dangerous as you think.

Going for walks in the evening or on weekends is another way to work in some physical activity. Many parents have also found that talking while walking is an easier way to connect than sitting across a table. Do your children see you being active? When we think about it, some of us find that when we work to squeeze in exercise, our children might never see us doing it. So taking a bike ride together is another great way to let kids see that you value moving more.

You can help make memories for your children. Help their brains, souls and bodies experience moving, playing and being outdoors. A small investment in time spent moving can lead to rich dividends of better learning and health now and in the future.