- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 26, 2000

Children are not getting the recommended time in physical education class, so parents should encourage them to be more active in their spare time, says Judith Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE).

"Part of the problem of inactive children is that we have inactive adults," Ms. Young says. "Adults need to be thinking about more activities that they can take the kids to. By 7 or 8 years old, a child can go for a long walk or bike ride with you or go to the health club or throw a Frisbee."

Even at home, areas need to be set aside in which children can move around, she says.

"Make sure there are places indoors and out that are OK to do things in," Ms. Young says. "Exercise by adult standards can be very formalized, such as going to a health club. Smaller children need places for spontaneous exercise, like crawling around on the floor or going to the playground."

Societal changes over the past few decades have resulted in families being less active, says Howell Wechsler, health scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of adolescent and school health. Two-career couples, longer commutes and the wide range of indoor activities (such as computers, video games and television) have cut down on everyone's fitness time, he says.

"It is really hard to get in activity with two parents working or the family living in a community in which they don't feel safe [outdoors]," Mr. Wechsler says. "The reality is, though, this is our world now, and we have to figure out a way to keep kids active.

"Parents can do many things," he says. "They can be influential role models. That is quite crucial. They can support their children's interests in getting them the equipment they need and by finding an activity the whole family can do. It is also a good idea to have rules about TV. An astonishing number of kids with TVs in their rooms are inactive."

Ms. Young agrees. She says American life has become an indoor culture, and a good portion of the time children spend watching television could be spent doing something more active.

"The average child watches three or more hours of TV a day," she says, "but the video games might be worse. At least kids can jump around while they are watching TV. Playing a game, you've got to have your hands on that joystick."

NASPE and Shape Up America, the nonprofit fitness-promotion organization founded by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have produced a booklet directed at parents who may be stumped for ideas to get their children moving. The booklet, "99 Tips for Family Fitness," offers ways to get the family moving, even for a few minutes in the back yard, including:

• Taking the family pet for a jog.

• Washing the car.

• Going on a fast-paced "treasure" hunt.

• Organizing a hopscotch tournament.

• Playing jump rope and freeze tag.

• Playing "Twister" on a rainy day.

• Building an obstacle course in the basement or garage.

• Buying toys that promote physical activity, such as child-size tennis racquets, footballs, skateboards and in-line skates.

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