exercise


At a recent family gathering, my 10-year-old daughter Grace was monkeying around with an older cousin when he started teasing her about her belly. Poking her stomach and asking whether she’s been eating too many cookies.

(Note: Grace is not overweight. She’s a very active, strong, healthy child. She has, however, filled out around her middle this year as most girls do just before heading into puberty. She has expressed some concern about her thickened middle, but so far has been satisfied with my explanation about growth–oftentimes kids grow out just before they grow up.)

As a mother, you always hate to hear your child teased. As a mother who has struggled with weight issues and disordered eating most of my life (and desperately wants to spare my child the same), I prayed that he would stop.

As the taunting continued, I panicked. My instinct was to tell him to stop. To cover his mouth with my hand. But, I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of the situation and bring even more attention to it. I desperately wanted him to stop though. I cringed every time he said it and I watched anxiously for Grace’s response.

And, of course, he did stop. The entire episode lasted less than 5 minutes.

I managed not to say anything until Grace was out of earshot, but then shared with him that Grace, like all little girls (and boys too), is sensitive about her body. It was a pleasant exchange. He apologized (which wasn’t necessary, I just wanted him to be aware) and commented that he’s noticed how sensitive his girlfriend is to comments about her body.

Thankfully, the teasing didn’t seem to phase Grace anymore than if he had been teasing her about the color of her eyes.

But I know better.

I know that the teasing about her belly stuck with her. Just as every negative comment about my body (even those that weren’t intended as negative) stuck with me. It got tucked somewhere in the back of her mind and is lurking there.  And, unfortunately, it will be supported and strengthened by lots of other comments, observations, media images and advertising messages.

Although this one incident was small–just a blip on the radar screen of her life–these small incidents accumulate and build. And our kids are paying attention. Close attention.

An ongoing study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that 40% of 9- and 10-year-old girls have tried to lose weight. Another study found that 53% of 13-year-old American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” The percentage grows to 78% by age 17. Shockingly, anorexia’s mortality is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

God help our girls (and boys). They are up against a lot.

So I’ll continue to be on guard and work to strengthen Grace’s defenses. I’ll try to instill in her the importance of being strong and healthy rather than being thin. I’ll support her as she finds and cultivates activities that are healthy and make her feel good about herself.  I’ll continue to emphasize healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ll encourage her to question media messages about female bodies.

And I’ll pray.

Unfortunately, a lot of kids today spend the vast majority of their time at home in front of the tv or computer. And, their parents do too. According to most studies, adults are also spending more time in front of the tv.

The link between too much “screen time” and obesity is well documented. Study after study has shown that our kids are spending more time watching tv, playing video games, and sitting at the computer. And, they are heavier than ever.

Kids who regularly watch four or more hours of tv per day are more likely to be overweight. (At first blush, four hours seems like a lot, but when you think about a child watching an hour or so in the morning, an hour after school and two hours later in the evening, it doesn’t seem so crazy outrageous.) It’s widely accepted that more time in front of the tv or computer increases one’s odds of being overweight.

Most of the research that’s been done in this area suggests that screen time causes obesity (at least what I’ve read). Makes sense. You’re sitting there like a big lump and then you become a big lump.

Still, I wonder if there’s another possibility. Could we have this whole thing backwards? Perhaps the increase in tv time is a symptom rather than a cause.

Obviously, screen time isn’t active. Participating in sports, playing outside or even playing board games does more to build healthy bodies than watching tv. While plopped in front of the tv, kids burn fewer calories and are also more likely to snack (fast- and junk-food commercials don’t help). The result is weight gain.

But what if kids watch so much tv because they have low energy to begin with? What if the food they eat leaves them without the energy they need for other activities?

Is screen time the chicken or the egg?

Why do kids watch so much tv nowadays? It’s often suggested that parents use the tv as a babysitter. Parents are either busy with other things or off at work, and the kids are left in front of the tv. While this may be the case in some families, most of the parents I know are far more involved in their children’s lives (and concerned about their children’s health) than parents of my generation. Not that my parents weren’t concerned, they just weren’t as consumed with childrearing as we seem to be today. Someone coined the phrase helicopter parents to describe the way we hover around our children. Whether or not the term describes you, chances are you are more involved in your child’s schedule, school work, and other activities than your parents were involved in yours.

So, what’s going on? Could it be that we are all watching more tv because we’re eating a bunch of crap that leaves us with little energy?

Consider this: Americans eat more processed food than anyone in the world at any time in the world. The average American eats 31% more processed food than fresh food. A 2005 study found that 90% of the money Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods.

While most of us ate processed foods growing up, there wasn’t the plethora of processed food options there is today (and there was no such thing as high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified crops, etc). (The processed food industry really took off after World War II as our culture became more consumer-based and has been growing ever since.) Eating this much processed food is a relatively new phenomenon.

Processed foods provide less nutrition than whole foods, tend to be high in salt and sugar, and also contain preservatives and other chemical additives. Because they contain a lot of simple sugars, processed foods cause a quick increase in blood sugar followed by a crash. The crash leaves us feeling depleted and tired. Combined with the lack of nutrition, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling rather sluggish.

And there’s not a lot I want to do when I’m feeling depleted, tired and sluggish. Except, of course, watch tv.

What do you think? Is screen time the chicken or the egg?

 

This past Friday, Grace accompanied me to observe a local youth program at which I will soon be teaching yoga. The program serves low income youth, many of whom are new to the U.S. After our visit, I asked Grace what she thought of the visit.

“Those kids were wild. I think it’s going to be hard to teach them yoga,” she said.

She’s right. The kids were pretty wild–probably at least in part due to the excitement of unfamiliar faces (Grace and me). Still, despite their “wildness,” I’m willing to bet it won’t be hard to teach yoga to them.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve taught yoga to a pretty wide range of kids–from girls who are competitive figure skaters to teenagers with EBD to 4 year-olds with no previous exposure to yoga–and what I’ve found is that almost universally they have actively participated in and enjoyed yoga. Although their practice often looks different from adults’, they gain many of the same benefits.

Despite that, I often hear parents and/or teachers comment that their kids don’t have the attention span or concentration that yoga requires. I say, that’s exactly why they should do yoga. One practices yoga to develop attention span and concentration, not because s/he has already achieved those things. It’s just like when adults tell me they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible. I say, that’s why you should consider yoga.

Although we often tell our children to calm down or focus, we rarely teach them how to do that. Nor do we actively provide them with ways to cope with and reduce stress. Yoga provides kids (and adults) with tools to help them learn those skills. The blend of breath, movement and body awareness helps kids learn to look within for calm and peace rather than always being influenced by external stimuli.

Yoga obviously has physical benefits as well. It improves flexibility, strength and coordination, and can help children maintain a healthy weight. Research supports the many benefits yoga provides.

Studies have shown that yoga:

  • Improves symptoms of many illnesses and ailments including ADHD and Autism;
  • Increases muscle tone and control in children with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy;
  • Increases academic achievement;
  • Improves self-esteem and decreases behavioral issues;
  • Reduces aggression; and
  • Increases attention span.

Another huge benefit of yoga is that it is accessible to children (and adults) at all levels of physical fitness. Thus it’s a great activity for entire families.

Sharing yoga with youth was one of my main motivations to teach yoga. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to share something that has made such a positive difference in my life with others–especially young people. I hope you and your family can join me for Family Yoga sometime soon.

Be well and namaste!

Family Yoga: 1st Sundays 12-1pm Moe Bodyworks, 3541 Lyndale Avenue S

Through a fun and challenging 60-minute class, families will be introduced to yoga through postures (asanas), breath (pranayama) and mental focus (dharana). Yoga’s unique accessibility and ability to challenge individuals at all levels of fitness builds strength, flexibility, concentration, balance and stamina. Individual and partner poses. Adults pay regular class price, kids are free!

Students in Israel walk to school carrying signs promoting safe roadways. (photo courtesy of iwalktoschool.org)

Started in Chicago in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America (modeled after a similar event held in the United Kingdom), Walk to School Day has grown into an international event with participation from all 50 states and more than 3 million walkers in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Walking to school encourages kids to be healthy, is good for the environment, and helps build safer communities. As communities have moved away from neighborhood schools and more children ride the bus (or cars) to school, childhood obesity and related illnesses have increased.

Walk to School Day aims to teach kids about walking–using crosswalks, identifying safe routes, and understanding traffic rules. What I especially love about Walk to School Day is that it helps kids (and their parents) think about incorporating activity into our regular routines rather than viewing exercise as a separate event. So often we hop into our cars out of habit even though there are other options.

Happy Walk to School Day! Be well.

I dreamed of walking around Lake Harriet with my daughter before I even had a daughter. I adore the Minneapolis city lakes (so much so that I’d like to have my ashes scattered there when I die, but that’s another blog) and have found incredible peace  and beauty on and around them. I looked forward to sharing that with my own child(ren).

Although I haven’t been able to find research on the subject, I’ve made some observations on my own about the impact of parents and children exercising together.  I believe that it greatly improves the health of both children and their parents.

The kids I grew up with who were active with their parents tended to be healthy and fit. They also tended to have solid relationships with their parents. That has held true into adulthood. Those same kids have remained close to their parents and for the most part are still healthy and fit. Some of them still run, walk and take classes with their parents.

Not only does exercising with our kids provide a healthy example for them, it provides wonderful time and space for connecting and sharing life lessons.

According to Dr. Ron Eaker, M.D. OB-GYN, author of Fat-Proof Your Family,  “Exercising with children reprograms kids to understand what is normal and what is not. Kids today believe that a sedentary lifestyle is normal. Studies show that most kids spend an average of 6 hours after school doing sedentary things like TV, computers, and video games. They have a skewed perception of ‘normal.’”

“But exercising with them ingrains a new standard of what is normal,” Dr. Eaker continues. “It establishes an environment of exercise by teaching them ‘this is what adults do.’ Exercising together gives them a sense of ownership and participation in adult activities.”

The concept of parents and children exercising together has even earned a day on the calendar. PACES (Parents and Children Exercising Simultaneously) Day is officially recognized on the first Saturday of May. According to the PACES web site, “Parents play a key role in the growth and development of their children. They are also the most influential role models in their children’s lives. Not only will families sign up to exercise together on PACES Day, but they are now committing to exercise every Saturday as a family… This is the motivational tool for the children. PACES Day is meant to kick start an exercise session with the family.”

One of the challenges I’ve encountered as a parent is finding activities that are fun and challenging for both adult and child. Grace and I ran our first 5k together last Thanksgiving, and walking and biking are good options. We also spend time in the backyard shooting hoops and jumping on the  trampoline.

We’ve also always enjoyed practicing yoga together, but there has been a bit of a gap in yoga offerings for kids her age and older. Most of the family yoga classes or “Mommy and Me” classes are aimed at kids much younger than Grace (she’s 9). The last one we attended didn’t even involve poses. Instead the kids ran around the studio with scarves and Grace thought it terribly “babyish.”

Thus, I’m really looking forward to teaching Mother/Daughter Yoga Friday evenings at Moe Bodyworks. First Fridays of each month from 7-8 pm are for girls ages 8-18 and their moms (or aunts, grandmas, neighbors, etc) and second Fridays of each month from 6:30-7:30 pm are for girls ages 4-10. Moe Bodyworks is located at 3541 Lyndale Ave S in South Minneapolis. Adults pay regular class price, girls are free. For more information on yoga packages and directions, please visit http://www.moebodyworks.com.

Hopefully these classes will provide another opportunity for your family to be active together–to build your bodies as well as relationship bonds that will last a lifetime.

Be well with your kids!

Disclaimer: If you find time to workout regularly, this blog is not for you. Keep on doing what you’re doing. This one’s for those of us who sometimes can’t find time for it.

During a recent midday visit, a client shared with me that she was failing (her word, not mine) at meeting her exercise goals. “The plan was to workout this morning, but I ended up at the doctor’s office,” she explained. “After meeting you, I pick up the kids. So there goes today. Another day I didn’t get a workout in.”

In her mind, her opportunity for exercise had passed. This amazing woman was feeling like a failure because the picture she held in her mind of a “workout” was not always fitting into her life.

Failure? Absolutely not! All she needed was a little nudge to think about exercise differently.

Another client’s wellness plan includes starting a running program. She told me recently that she needs to give up that goal because her schedule only allows running once a week. Her thought was that since progress would be slow, there was no point in starting.

Does slow progress cancel out the benefits of exercise? Absolutely not! When it comes to exercise (and most things wellness-related) something is better than nothing. And, when we’re coming from a place of no exercise or none of a particular exercise, adopting a more gradual approach allows our bodies (and our minds and schedules) more time to adjust to the new activity.

We’re all busy. Finding an hour block of time three or more times a week isn’t always easy or even possible (especially when we aren’t accustomed to doing so). Why set yourself up to fail? Instead, shift your thinking from “workout” to physical activity and try to incorporate some into every day. Most of us–even on our busiest of days–can squeeze an extra 20 minutes out of our day. Twenty minutes a day seven days a week will get you 140 minutes of exercise/activity per week. An hour three times a week will only get you 120.

While building endurance is certainly a goal, a “workout” doesn’t have to happen within one block of time–it can be broken down into smaller more manageable time spans. It also doesn’t have to involve a gym, running or exercise equipment. Perhaps a 15-minute walk in the morning and another at the end of the day. Or walking the stairs for 10 minutes over your lunch hour and taking a short walk with your spouse in the evening. Maybe some sit-ups in the morning and shooting hoops or playing Wii with the kids in the afternoon. Walk with a friend or coworker rather than meeting for coffee or drinks.

Once you start examining your day with an eye for activity, you’ll likely find lots of opportunities. One client has mastered this. She recently decided to park farther away from an event than she normally would have. Not only did she get a 15-minute walk in before and after the event, she saved money on parking too!

In the case of the client who was feeling like a workout failure, we determined some physical activities she could do with her children on days she isn’t able to exercise while they are at school–walking to the park, walking while the kids bike, and playing physical games with them. While these activities may not meet the exercise time and intensity goals she originally set for herself, they will undoubtedly help her become a healthy, active person. And, perhaps more importantly, will keep her from feeling like she’s failed at exercise.

Progress, rather than perfection, is the goal. Success is not dependent on how quickly you reach your health and wellness goals, but on whether you stick with them regardless of how long it takes. How will you incorporate activity into your day?

Be well!

Here I am. Turning my passion for health and wellness into a career as a wellness coach and consultant. Sharing what I’ve learned from my own struggles, breakthroughs and training, along with the experiences of my wellness clients. I welcome you to my journey and specifically to my blog.

I’m guessing that at some point each of my clients will recognize him/herself here (although wellness coaching is completely confidential and I would never share identifying details). In some cases, they will be correct. More often though, the experience or situation I’m describing could apply to any number of folks. The fact is we all struggle with many of the same challenges in our quest for health and wellness: time, money, lack of information, lack of energy, information overload, less than supportive partners and overall high stress to name just a few.

Much of what I’ve learned about wellness comes from my own experiences. Fortunately (and in some cases, unfortunately) I have a lot of experience in the area–from being a chubby middle-schooler to struggling with eating disorders in my teens and early 20s to getting healthy and fit only to lose  track of it after becoming a new mother. What I know is that I am happiest in ALL areas of my life when I am fit. I feel the least stressed when I am fit. I have better relationships with myself AND others when I am fit. I believe I do better work when I am fit. And, I believe that nobody can afford NOT to find the time to be healthy and fit. After all if you’re not healthy, nothing–job, money, house, family–can be fully enjoyed.

Through the years, I experimented with all kinds of diet and exercise programs before finding what works for me.  I believe finding what works for you is key. What works for me may not work for you. As a coach, my job is to help you determine what works best for you and support and motivate your implementation.

In addition to my own experiences in the area, I have read hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books on the subject, have participated in many workshops and seminars, am a RYT-200 yoga instructor, and recently completed training through the Wellcoach Institute. Despite my knowledge and experience, I continue to explore,  learn and evolve.

I welcome and thank you for joining me on my journey. I hope you enjoy the blog, learn something new from time to time, and progress on your path to wellness. I would love to know what you think, so please leave a comment. And, most importantly, be well!