Change the direction – Encourage youth fitness

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Luis was so excited about his first game! He was a twelve-year-old middle schooler and his mom signed him up a few weeks ago for the Youth Sports Soccer Camp sponsored by his local YMCA. After three fun weeks of practice, he and the team were ready for the big game. As he was there on the field, everything around him made him feel such a rush – the smell of popcorn from a concession stand, the parents and family cheering on their favorite son, cousin or nephew, and the feel of fresh, wet grass sliding under his feet.

As the middle of the game approached, Luis had his big moment. One of his teammates passed Luis the ball and he could see a clear path to the goal. So he began running down the field, kicking the ball as he went. People began to shout, “Luis! Luis!,” and he could feel the adrenaline rush in. As he made it down the field, right in front of the goal, he could see the shocked face of the goalie as he kicked the ball past him and made the score.

Luis turned to see the crowd bewildered and the opposing team cheering and shouting. He didn’t realize as he was driving the ball down the field that he was headed towards the wrong goal. Luis’ team lost the game that day but thankfully Luis was not deterred in his pursuit of sports. As a result of encouraging parents and many locally sponsored fitness activities, Luis remained physically active through high school and college. He is now getting his kids involved in sports camps and making sure that they know to never drive the ball down to the wrong end of the field!

bike-775799_960_720There is definitely a need in our families and communities for children and youth to be more involved in exercise and fitness opportunities. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one out of three children in Texas, ages 10-17 are overweight or obese. These rates increase when you look at the African American and Hispanic population. Studies show that children who do participate in regular exercise, fitness, and sports have better overall health outcomes, academic success, lower rates of depression and better social skills.*

It is recommended that children ages 5-17 get at least 60 minutes a day of exercise. There are many ways that fitness and exercise can be incorporated and will vary according to age appropriateness, fitness ability, local opportunities, and resources. A fitness or sports program should only be started with prior consultation and recommendation of a doctor or medical professional.

So what are the primary ways to get children and youth more involved in fitness and exercise?

ENCOURAGE

Studies show a huge relationship between the support of parents and family, the fitness level of parents and the fitness level of kids. As kids see you exercising and participating in activities, they will want to participate as well. Make fitness a part of your family lifestyle and traditions. This will show young people the value of fitness and exercise. Many of us had that loving parent or grandparent that would get us off the couch on Saturday morning and tell us to go outside and play. Looking back, we can see more clearly the value of grandma’s words as it encouraged us to stay active, healthy and strong.

ENGAGE

Studies also show that the more exposure a child or young person has to fitness and exercise opportunities, the greater their fitness levels. Make sure that you are taking advantage of local opportunities that encourage sports, exercise, and fitness. There are many weekly camps, events, and activities that you can find on social media or through the newspaper where kids will be exposed to exercise and how easy and fun it can be. This Sunday, for example, is a free event called Síclovía sponsored by the YMCA and supported by the city of San Antonio that promotes walking, bike-riding and exercise in the community (www.ymcasatx.org). Use events like this to stir children’s interest and give them a healthy perspective of exercise.

As we pursue healthier lives, healthier families and a healthier San Antonio, let us be sure to focus on our young people and helping them to build a foundation for health and wellness that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. As we do this, we affect not only the life of that child but of generations. We enable a kid like Luis the opportunity to live healthy and strong and to instill that tradition and foundation in the lives of his children and grandchildren.

*Janssen, I., & LeBlanc, A. G. (2010). Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7(1), 40.

As a final note, I would like to highlight a great opportunity starting next week from the YMCA of Greater San Antonio called “PAY THE DAY.” For the month of October, the normal joining fee of $59 will be waived and your joining fee will correspond to the date that you come in to register as a member. If you come on Oct. 2nd, your fee is $2; if you come Oct. 15th, your fee is $15, etc. Take this opportunity to get you and your family involved in health and wellness, sports, youth, and senior activities and healthy living. The YMCA also offers financial assistance and scholarships to those who qualify.

JuliusJulius Hunter is a personal trainer/group exercise instructor with the YMCA of Greater San Antonio and a doctoral student at Our Lady of the Lake University focusing on the intersection between leadership, health, and wellness, resilience, and grit. His personal story includes losing over 100 pounds through diet and exercise and he has a passion to see others live better and healthier lives. You can reach him via email at juliush@ymcasatx.org and access more information about the services and programs of the YMCA at https://ymcasatx.org/programs/health-and-fitness

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