“More Than Child’s Play,” Ensign, Sept. 1987, 68–69
One of the jokes around our house involves the difference between the “good old days” and now. Whenever it snows, our children remind us how tough it was when we “walked five miles to and from school through two feet of snow,” sometimes barefoot and often uphill both ways. Although we joke about the physical hardships of the past, today’s life-style really does require less activity.
Many adults have sensed the need for increased physical activity, and we are now in the midst of a fitness revival. But what about youth? According to a study by the U. S. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, in the past few years there has been a decline in fitness among children and teenagers.
No one questions the value of being physically fit. Studies show that fit people live longer, have fewer health problems, control stress better, and have a better self-image. It is important, therefore, that parents teach their children good habits and attitudes that will lead to a lifetime of health. The following suggestions may help.
Be an example of fitness. If you do not currently have a personal exercise program, start one. The most beneficial exercises develop cardiovascular fitness. These are large-muscle, rhythmic-type activities that can be done continuously: jogging, walking, bicycling, swimming, or aerobics. Participate in these activities for fifteen to sixty minutes at least three times per week. But don’t overdo it; if you are exercising too hard to carry on a conversation, slow down.
Watch what you eat, too. Maintain a balanced diet that is low in fats and sugars.
Do active things with your children. Our summer evenings were simply not complete until we had turned the rope for each other, ending with “hot pepper.” Ropes were always included in the equipment we took on trips, and we jumped as a family in trailer parks and motel parking lots all over the West.
One family I know jogs together. They go to a park where they can see—and be seen by—each other no matter where they are in the park. This lets everyone run at his own pace. Another mother walks with her baby in a backpack and pushes an older child in a stroller. In bad weather they walk at a nearby mall.
Summer outings to the golf course or tennis court bring families closer together while teaching children a sport they can enjoy for the rest of their lives.
Some families buy memberships in a local recreation facility so they can swim or run indoors in inclement weather, as well as play basketball, tennis, or racquetball.
Provide facilities and equipment for active games. Every backyard should be a family fitness area. Our first project when we bought a house was to pour a cement pad out back and put up a basketball standard. We also painted lines on the cement for four-square or hopscotch and kept a garbage can of different-sized balls, bats, mitts, ropes, and other apparatus readily available.
Help children learn physical skills. Teach children the activities you enjoy or enroll them in classes so they can develop new skills. Our children took gymnastics, karate, swimming, golf, and tennis, and played in several different organized leagues in team sports such as basketball, soccer, and baseball. Of course, we didn’t pressure them to win in any of these activities; we simply encouraged them to enjoy participating.
Insist on quality physical education programs in your local schools. Elementary schools should teach basic skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and catching; middle school programs can include team sports as well as personal fitness; and high school programs should emphasize personal fitness and health as well as introduce carryover activities such as golf and tennis.
Encourage those who develop physical fitness programs in your children’s schools to use tests based on personal fitness rather than physical performance. One of the best was developed in 1980 by the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, and Dance (AAHPERD). It measures cardiovascular fitness using a mile run, evaluates fatness by using skin-fold measurements, and checks muscular strength and flexibility using a simple sit-up and sit-and-reach test.
Another, even more realistic, approach for the average student is to give awards for participation. An excellent program that was developed by the Church can be obtained through your stake activities committee. This program awards points for various activities and gives awards for a total number of points earned during a certain period of time.
Children and young adults can and do become more physically fit when they participate in proper training programs. Surely, parents should encourage development in this area as much as in any other aspect of their children’s lives.—Garth Fisher, professor of physical education, Brigham Young University