Healthy Tip # 65

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Welcome to a new category of my blog simply called ‘Healthy Tips.’ Many times, when I write articles for various publications, I need to find sources for the story. Recently, I wrote an article for Yahoo Shine (click here) and PBS (click here) about keeping kids healthy. I was looking for experts and parents to chime in and give their favorite ‘tips’ to help kids (and their families) lead a healthy lifestyle.

The feedback for the story was amazing. The sources had some fantastic points of view that could not be ignored, and I thought their opinions should be viewed on the Your Health Journal web site.

So, enjoy my new series, with some ‘great’ insight from some ‘great’ people giving exceptional and educational points of view.

Healthy Tip From Laura Cottam Sajbel

“…..For the past two and a half years, I have been writing a book (Buoyant) with Wella Peirsol Hartig, the mother of two Olympic contenders. Her son is Aaron Peirsol, the backstroker who holds seven Olympic medals and two World Records, and her daughter Hayley was ranked third in the world in distance events at the peak of her career. Wella talks about how she stumbled into exercise as a young adult and discovered the power of physical exertion to heal, then focused her energetic young children on sports.”

“In the process of writing this manuscript, I have spoken to some of the country’s top neuroscientists and read scores of studies about the growing awareness of the connection between exercise and brain health. Based on my knowledge from this project, I am answering your queries below. Wella is available for comment, too, should you need her as a celebrity guest.”

1. The importance of families exercising together

As a parent, Wella demonstrated, with her daily practice of running and swimming, the way to lead a healthy lifestyle. Because the family was growing up near the beach, Wella felt it important to teach them to swim well, and
arranged their schedules so that they just thought swim team was part of life.

She points out, however, that it is crucial that parents let their kids learn to enjoy sports, rather than pressure them to succeed in competition. Even when they were not at practice, the family led a fun, active lifestyle that included rollerblading together and racing around at the beach. Today, the grown Aaron, recently retired after three successful Olympics and countless national and international wins, confirms that his 20-year career in the sport was due to the fact that he just loved to swim and to compete.

2. Suggestions / creative ideas to get families to exercise together

Prioritize, and allow yourself to untether from “important” obligations. With three kids in three different schools (elementary, middle and high school), for example, our family finds there are infinite meetings and volunteer hours and practices and homework. Cutting-edge research, however, proves that physical movement is required by the brain to produce new cells, among other critical functions.

Discover what interests your children and find a way to build in physical fun. For example, if they like technical gadgets, try geo-cacheing in a pretty local park. There are myriad opportunities to do things kids like. And grown-ups
should not be afraid to play, either! Make time to try letterboxing or paddleboarding or bike rides to the library. Build it into your day. Exercise will lift everyone’s spirits and can provide happy family memories.

3. Reasons why families are not exercising together as much in our modern day era.

One of the trends in recent years is that families feel compelled to put even very young children on sports teams and fast-track them to competitive club teams, rather than simply to let kids exercise for enjoyment. Our society has grown so fast-paced and goal-obsessed that simple, pleasurable pick-up games at the park are rarely available to our children. For reasons as diverse as two-income families and desires for college scholarship, sports has moved away
from play and is seen as something for which one must sign up and receive proper coaching. Also, with 24/7 connection to work via cellphone, many people are reluctant to “waste” time kicking a ball to their kid or hanging out at the pool. The book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), by Dr. John Ratey and Eric Hagerman, opens with sharp and witty commentary on how technology has moved humans away from the physicality of daily life, to the detriment of our bodies and brains. As Ratey says, “We have engineered movement right out of our lives.”

Laura Cottam Sajbel