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YMCA's Healthy Living: Helping kids stay healthy during the school year

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It’s that time of year. Back to school sales are plentiful, nighttime comes a little earlier, and it’s about time to close the pool. Yep, summer is coming to an end. The kids are off to school and your summer vacation (if you got one) is over. And, for many of us, this means that our schedules are about to get a heck of a lot busier. During the summer, with the longer days and vacation schedules, it can be much easier to stay active; going for bike rides outside, swimming in the lake, or just playing in the yard. But as we return to work or school and the days get shorter, it’s easy to let those activities fall by the wayside.

For many parents, the autumn months mean a more hectic lifestyle. Getting the kids on the bus to school, getting yourself ready to go to work, working all day and getting home in time to pick up the kids, making dinner, making sure homework is completed before getting the kids off to bed — only to start all over in the morning. You would think we were reliving the movie “Groundhog Day” where nothing ever seemed to change. And that’s when we are most susceptible to giving up the active lifestyle. After all, don’t the kids get enough exercise in their school day?

Sound familiar? If so, read on.

Vigorous exercise

A recent study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) investigated the link between physical activity in children and academic performance in school. Initially, researchers predicted that kids who took physical education (PE) during the school day would do better academically, since it helps reduce boredom and helps kids stay focused.

The study, reported in the ACSM’s official journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, examined 214 children of middle school age. All students were randomly assigned to a PE class in either the first or second semester of the school year. Researchers collected information on each student’s activity level in and outside of the PE class, and compared their level of activity to their grades in the subjects of math, science, world studies and English.

Surprisingly, researchers found that being enrolled in PE (moderate activity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week) did not influence the children’s grades. The government’s Healthy People 2010 guidelines recommend vigorous activity for 20 minutes, at least three days per week. This study showed that the more active children were, such as participating in a sport or other vigorous activity, the better they did in school. Most of the children who did exercise “vigorously” did so outside of school, by playing sports like soccer, basketball, football, baseball and softball.

Staying active

This doesn’t mean that children who don’t participate in organized sports are doomed to become low achievers. Achieving vigorous activity can be achieved in other ways, such as participating in an after-school activity program such as those offered at the Hampshire Regional YMCA. Getting in the habit of doing this early in the colder seasons makes it easier to continue when outside activity is no longer an option.

Or, if your kids are old enough, try exercising together. As an adult, you are an example to your children, and by prioritizing exercise in your own life and inviting your kids to join along, you teach them a valuable lesson! A brisk jog together or a family game of tag football is a great way for all members of the family to meet their exercise requirements.

Don’t forget sleep

Just as kids need vigorous exercise, they also need adequate rest. In order for children to have the energy for school, ensuring that they are getting enough sleep is a must. School-aged children need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep per night. It’s common to get out of the habit of a regular bedtime in summer, which is fine because there’s more flexibility to sleep in. But with a bus schedule to make during the school year, it becomes even more important that you develop a bedtime schedule.

Signs of sleep deprivation include a negative change in mood, behavioral problems, and cognitive issues such as troubles with memory or decision making. To avoid these problems, it’s really important that parents maintain a consistent bedtime and set limits. It’s also recommended that parents consider limiting the amount of time their children can use television, computers and other mobile devices, and eliminating their caffeine intake. If your child continues to have problems, it’s important that you contact your child’s doctor.

Lindsay Doak is a member of the YMCA of Hampshire County’s board of directors.

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