Healthy Toys for Healthy Kids

By Kipp Hanley

When other kids were receiving ski lessons, Marine Corps Marathon finisher Bill Stearns was sidestepping hills wearing his new skis, climbing up the hills without the help of a tow.

This story may sound like the exaggerated ones your grandfather used to tell involving “walking to school barefoot up hill both ways in a blizzard.” However, it’s a good example of a child’s excitement for fitness generated by a holiday gift like a pair of skis. Keeping your children active can start with the purchase of holiday gifts of athletic equipment.

The gift doesn’t have to break the bank. If your budget for the holidays is a little tight this year, you can skip the bicycle or skis and purchase a football, soccer ball or just running shorts – anything that will encourage your youngster to get out of the house and be active.

With so many options other than athletic-related toys in today’s consumer world, children can easily get caught up in the seemingly endless supply of electronic games. While video games can be a pleasant diversion from schoolwork, they don’t provide the same physical, mental and even emotional benefits that come with physical activity.

Unfortunately, too many children aren’t experiencing this type of athletic satisfaction. In a recent poll in the United Kingdom, teachers cited holiday gifts as the top reason that 1 of 10 six-year-olds in Great Britain are obese. These days, many children are clamoring for cell phones or the latest X-Box or Playstation game, instead of getting roller skates, skateboards or other popular gifts of the 1970s, which encouraged a more active lifestyle

Obesity in the United States is even a greater threat. In 1999, 13% of US children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of US adolescents aged 12 to 19 years were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past two decades.

Bill Stearns, an athletic director since 2003 and a track coach in New Jersey and Virginia during much of the past 25 years, started to see an “alarming” drop off in the fitness level of his team members. To combat this issue, in the Stearns’ household there are no video games for his seven-year-old daughter, Mary Faith, to play. Instead, she takes karate lessons and sometimes tags along with on a run with dad.

Here are some helpful hints, if you are considering the purchase of an athletic-related toy for the holidays. Put a smile on your child’s face and provide him or her motivation to live an active, healthy lifestyle. You might even give your son or daughter the inspiration to participate in the October one-mile Healthy Kids Fun Run, held in conjunction with the annual Marine Corps Marathon.

1. You can get good deals on seasonal items at sporting goods or chain department stores. For example, look for football sales in the summer and early fall, before the high school, college and NFL seasons begin.

2. Buy anything that encourages aerobic activity. For children ages 6-13, it’s more important for them to exercise their hearts than build up muscle strength. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that those who aren’t fully developed physically should avoid heavy lifting. According to the AAP, the average age of developmental maturity is 15. Instead of a set of weights for your pre-teen, buy your child a bicycle, a skateboard, inline skates or even a jump rope or running shoes. If you want to encourage them to participate in team sports, buy them a soccer ball, football or basketball.

3. Not all video games lend themselves to a sedentary lifestyle. Sodexho registered nurse and licensed dietician Tina Reddington suggests purchasing Dance Dance Revolution, a Japanese game that features a dance pad and a video screen in which a person can boogie to a selected beat by taking cues from what they see on the screen. This game is wildly popular at video arcades and different versions of it can be found now on Playstation, GameCube, X-Box and Game Boy.

4. There are many great gifts you can buy your children for the holidays that lend themselves to working out together. Surprise your child by purchasing karate lessons for the family. Dietrich’s Karate Studios in Burke, Va. offers karate lessons for families with children ages six and older. A large percentage of their clientele pursue this route. Mister Stepanyah, an employee of the studio, said those families who workout together are trying to reach the same goal, so the family bonding and confidence building is “awesome.”

From basketball to bicycles, there are plenty of great presents out there for the holidays. Perhaps the most important gift you can give your child to promote a healthy lifestyle is your time.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held in October 2007. Visitwww.marinemarathon.com  for more information. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Kipp Hanley is the Marketing Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

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