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We all know the role physical fitness plays in preventing obesity in children, but did you know it might actually makes them smarter?
A new study by the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University found that students who passed the California physical fitness test also performed better on the statewide standardized tests. The study followed two groups of children from grades four through nine, keeping track of their academics (using standardized test scores) as well as their physical fitness test results. The physical fitness test measures students on six levels of fitness, including aerobic capacity (running a mile), body composition (Body Mass Index, or BMI), flexibility, upper-body strength, trunk extensor strength, and abdominal strength. In order to pass, a child has to successfully perform 5 out of 6 levels of fitness.
Sebastian Castrechini, who was part of the research team, says "the most prominent results showed a considerable achievement gap between the students that passed [the physical fitness test] compared to the students who failed." He says that even after taking into account the background of the student—race, status, etc.—the results remained consistent.
So how do we get children physically active? "Children tend to learn their nutritional habits and exercise habits by modeling what their parents do," Castrechini says. This means it's your job to model healthy behavior for your children.
Experts agree that it's important to integrate healthy choices and staying active into your family's life as a habit, not a chore. Here are a few suggestions for obesity prevention and fitness activities to do as a family:
- Take a family walk after dinner. Spice it up by coming up with certain tasks to do before you reach home. Skip to a fallen leaf, run to a tree at the end of the block, and jump from the sidewalk to the front door!
- Have a pedometer race. Give each family member a pedometer to wear each day and see who can walk the most each month. To make it more interesting, try playing Race Across America.
- Set up fitness stations. Hopscotch in the driveway, jump rope in the living room, hula hooping in the backyard; when you set up stations, you're setting up an invitation for fun routine fitness.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Digging, sowing, picking, and plucking weeds is all great exercise. This activity will not only get you active outdoors, but is likely to get your family eating more vegetables!
- Go for a weekend hike. Most places, even big cities, have beautiful hiking trails. Take advantage of that and enjoy an afternoon in the great outdoors! Visit www.stateparks.com for a list of local parks in your area, or log on to gorp.away.com/gorp/trailfinder/index.html for hiking trails in your state.
- Play Simon Says, but instead of commanding that children put their hands on their head or raise their right hand, challenge them with "Simon says, do ten jumping jacks," or "Simon says, sprint across the backyard."
Changing your fitness routine is your family’s first step towards staying physically fit, and maybe even upping your child’s grades in school.