These days I am seeing two groups of kids in the community, and we will simply call them the “haves” and the “have nots.” Let’s be clear – it really has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, but there really are two distinct groups of kids: 1) either the parents and kids are being pushed earlier and harder to excel in a particular sport, or 2) the parents and kids are simply disengaged all together from sporting activities.

With this being said, this column is directed at all kids, but I’m really trying to reach out to the parents of kids who just aren’t that interested in sports. Let’s be clear – there’s nothing wrong with playing the flute, starring in the play, or anchoring the debate club. These are noble and appropriate pursuits, but there are just too many disengaged kids these days when it comes to basic physical fitness.

Looking back to my own youth and young adulthood, I can clearly assert that nothing is as motivational as watching the Olympic Games. The “thrill of victory” at the Olympic level has no parallel in its ability to motivate all of us. As I write this column, I am looking up at my own signed team jersey from the 1980 USA Olympic Gold-Medal-Winning Hockey Team. It still gives me goose bumps when I think about that game. Let’s use some of this positive Olympic energy to highlight how we can better ourselves and our kids from a physical fitness standpoint.

Although the Olympics Games highlight athletic pursuit and achievement, they should also serve as a wakeup call for parents of kids who are not active. If you look at the statistics, youth fitness levels are dragging – it’s estimated that only one out of four American schoolchildren gets an adequate amount of physical activity each day. It’s no surprise that the number of overweight children is rising rapidly. Almost 13% of 6 to 11-year-olds are obese. Importantly, children who don’t get at least 35 to 60 minutes of walking or other exercise each day can also miss out on their chance to build the strong muscles and bones that they will need later in life.

The bottom line is that many kids need a lifestyle change from one that is sedentary to one that is more physically active, and that’s going to take some work on the part of you parents. Let’s face it, it’s easier to “plop” our kids in front of the TV or computer than it is to actually play with them. Your involvement in your kid’s play time is not only good for your family, but it can also often be good for your family’s over-all fitness. Exposing your children to the Olympics might be just the motivation that you and your kids need.

There are a lot of perks to your kids being active:

Bones, for instance, grow in size and strength during childhood. The peak bone mass that you gain through physical activity while you’re young helps to determine your skeletal health throughout life. In addition to building stronger bones and fit muscles, regular physical activity also strengthens the heart and lungs. It lowers blood pressure, improves muscle strength and flexibility, reduces stress and depression, helps control weight, and improves sleep. In addition to exercise, a healthy diet, not a junk food diet, is key to over-all wellness.

Get started with physical activity:

Making the switch to a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, and getting started is the toughest and most important step in any exercise program. Slow and steady is the best way to begin. Also, do a variety of different physical activities. Here are some tips:

  • Choose fun, year-round activities.
  • Take plenty of time to warm up and cool down. Do walking, bending, and gentle stretching exercises. Flexibility exercises help avoid injuries.
  • Work toward fitness goals gradually.

The minimum 35 minutes of physical activity each day can be broken up into shorter periods, such as 15 minutes of walking and 20 minutes of sports.

Tips to get kids moving:

  • Reinforce that exercise is fun! Avoid emphasis on winning.
  • Model active behavior. Join children for a bike ride, a ball game or a long walk.
  • Use physical activity as a reward, such as a family canoe trip or berry-picking outing.
  • Make exercise part of daily routines: simple chores such as raking leaves, painting or walking the dog are effective ways to increase activity.
  • Schedule physical activities in 10 to 15 minute blocks of time throughout the day.
  • Designate indoor areas for physical activity.
  • Select physically active-oriented toys and gifts.
    • Finally, check out the 2014 Winter Olympic Games – and encourage your kids to watch them. While watching TV might not actually increase your fitness level in and of itself, seeing these athletes compete might be “just what the doctor ordered” to get your child – and perhaps you – off the couch and involved with something healthy.

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