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KidFit 101
Here’s another good reason to get your child moving.

You probably have heard about all the ways that regular activity and exercise can help to prevent obesity and other associated health problems—including diabetes and heart disease. But did you know that kids who are physically fit also perform better academically?

That was the conclusion of a major study done by the California Dept. of Education last year. Researchers there compared scores of a standardized academic achievement test with results of a state-mandated physical fitness test. The scores of 353,000 fifth grades, 322,000 seventh graders and 279,000 ninth graders were compared.

The results? The more fit they were, the greater the achievements on the academic tests. “This study provides compelling evidence that the physical well-being of students has a direct impact on their ability to achieve academically,” said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

Of course, nobody is saying that having a physically fit child guarantees an Ivy League scholarship. But it should give all parents greater impetus to help their kids get out and get more active. Here are some ideas on how to do that, from children’s fitness expert Dr. Stephen Virgilio:

  • Make Fitness Fun: Kids instinctively want to be active; our job as parents is to help them do just that. Don’t stress the competitive aspects, or pressure them to perform. Instead give them permission to have fun. Be guided not by their proficiency or by an adult what exercise should consist of…but rather by your child’s laughter and enthusiasm.

  • Carve Out the Time…Create The Opportunities: Kids can’t get active unless you give them the opportunity. Provide the time and the tools to do that. Throw around the balls, swing the bats, strap on the skates—schedule trips to the playground, the beach, the local park. Or simply make a “play date” for you and your child in your own backyard.

  • Teach New Skills: For children, the playground is a laboratory—a place where they experiment and discover new skills, new sports, new things about themselves. Parents can be the catalysts for such discoveries: Teaching a new skill or a new game will help make their activity more fun for their child—and more beneficial, as they make play time a learning time, as well.

  • Super Parents Aren’t Necessarily Super Athletes: You don’t have to be Derek Jeter or Marion Jones to play catch or run around the backyard with your child. What’s most important is your presence. “You can still get the message across to them about the importance of being active simply by being there, supporting them, making these activities available to them,” says Dr. Virgilio.

  • Provide A Daily Dose of Positive Reinforcement: Criticizing your child because they can’t kick a ball straight swing a bat as well as Joey or Jane down the street is misguided. “This isn’t about being the best soccer player in the neighborhood,” Dr. Virgilio says. “This is about doing your best, learning, and enjoying the activity.” You can enhance that learning and enjoyment by being generous with your praise, support and encouragement. “One pat on the pack is worth more than hours of punitive drills,” says Virgilio.

  • Sound Mind, Sound Body: Sound Familiar? Some might say that the California study merely confirms the ancient Greek idea of a “sound mind, sound body.” Childhood is the time to start teaching this important lesson—that classroom learning and physical activity are not incompatible. Try to build in some time for activity every day. Remember: Physical fitness is good for every aspect of your child’s health and development. And what could be more important than that?

  • Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education