The little ones are back to school. But they're not out of trouble.
When it comes to their health, America's children are suffering like never before. They are exercising too little, eating too much and, as a result, their bodies are getting fatter, their hearts are getting weaker, their blood pressure is getting higher.
And diabetes? Don't ask. If current trends continue, experts predict that 30 percent to 40 percent of all children alive today will have diabetes in their lifetime.
The good news is back-to-school is the time for new beginnings, a fresh slate, an ideal time to take matters into your own hands and start your kids down the road to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Easier said than done, but undone, your kids won't reach their highest potential. So as the new school season gets under way, consider the following:
- Support healthier lunchrooms. Finally, school lunchrooms are starting to improve. Vending machines and unsavory sodas are being banned, and a scattering of schools are experimenting with organic gardens, salad bars and veggie burgers.
What is happening in your school lunchroom? Check it out. Support reform, in school and in your own kitchen. Out with the junk, in with the good stuff. You are your kid's most important teacher when it comes to smart eating.
- Reward physical activity. Don't depend on schools to legislate fitness for your kids. It's not happening. You are the parent. It's your job to help them find a fun sport they enjoy.
Make it a priority. Reward participation. Limit television. Model excellence by making time in your own day to be active.
- Help kids cope. I don't have young kids, but if I did, I would get them schooled in yoga, breathing and meditation. Today's kids are overstressed, overdrugged and overstimulated by too much technology. If you don't help them, who will?
Your body is your business, but you should know it's never too late to make it stronger, leaner, better able to carry you through the chores and joys of your day. That's why strength training is so important when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle. Working with weights builds muscle, boosts your metabolism and reshapes your body.
If you're already strength-training two or three times a week, good for you. If you want to start, today is the perfect day. Buy a book or a video or, even better, reserve some time with a trainer so you can learn proper form and breathing.
Here are three tips to improve your training and prevent injuries:
- Don't lock your knees. I see this in the gym way too often: stiff-limbed lifters who lock their knees and elbows as they work through their routine. Not smart.
Locked limbs can lead to injuries. Locking your limbs also takes away from the work your muscles have to do, so your whole workout is less effective.
Remember this: When you lift weights, keep your knees and elbows soft and fluid, not locked and tight.
- Don't bounce when you stretch. Stretching before you lift can help prevent tears and strains, but if you stretch improperly, you may be doing more harm than good.
Do not bounce on your muscles when you stretch. You may think that increases your flexibility, but in fact, it does the opposite. Pumping your muscles triggers a reflex that makes your muscles contract, not stretch.
Stretch slowly, and breathe into the body part being stretched, using your exhalation to go deeper. Hold each stretch for at least 20-30 seconds, and visualize your muscle getting warmer, energized, more flexible.
- Watch those toes. Done properly, lunges and squats are terrific exercises for building strength in your lower body. Do them improperly, and you invite an injury.
A common mistake is allowing your knees to extend past your toes as you lower your body. This may seem like a little thing, but over time, it can add up to serious knee pain.
Remember: Free weights are great for building strength. So are resistance machines. The key to success is your personal commitment to a program that is safe and enjoyable. Never hold your breath when lifting, and be mindful about moving gently, in control.
Want to cultivate your kid's interest in healthy food? Get them into gardening and nature will do the rest.
Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.