Raise Active Kids

Helping children to be fit doesn’t have to cost a lot, but the payoff is huge.
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Though Bergen overall is considered one of the state’s healthiest counties, there’s still a concern that today’s kids weigh more and move less than ever before. According to 2017 data from the state Department of Health, 10 percent of New Jersey children ages 10 to 17 years old are obese, while 14 percent of all high school students are considered overweight by body mass index (BMI) standards.  What’s changed? For one thing, the simple suggestion to “go outside and play” now works only for those lucky enough to have both neighborhood friends who are home and adults around to keep an eye out. For another, the proliferation of screen-based entertainment,especially smartphones, now means kids don’t actually have to leave the house—or even the couch—to be social. Moreover, many schools, under pressure to raise standardized test scores, have cut back on recess. As a result, many children aren’t getting the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Because of the childhood obesity epidemic, we are starting to see patients developing chronic conditions at an earlier age,” says Leigh Ettinger, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at Hackensack University Medical Center, naming ailments including sleep apnea and gallstones. “A young, developing skeleton is not able to hold a lot of weight comfortably, and organs are still growing.”


The good news is that many of the negative trends can be countered by parental effort. Moms and dads who model active behavior and a healthy diet can make a big difference. That means doing things like walking together, hiking on weekends and being active when you take kids to the playground. If necessary, put this priority into your calendar: Schedule at least 30 minutes three times a week to be active with your kids. “Exercise should be enjoyable,” Dr. Ettinger says. “Kids can do low-impact activities, like swimming and biking. You don’t want to turn them off to exercise.”

Parents also can help by setting ground rules and expectations. While you’re getting dinner together, for example, tell the kids not to watch TV while they’re waiting— even playing an active video game like Wii Fit or doing a craft is better than sitting on the couch. See the sidebar “Make Activity Part of Life” for more ideas.

The American Heart Association reports that physical activity influences weight, reduces blood pressure, raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol, reduces the risk of diabetes and some kinds of cancer—and leads to greater self-confidence and higher self-esteem.

But Dr. Ettinger reminds parents to emphasize good nutrition in addition to exercise.

“There should be a good balance,” he says, “because a child can burn X-number of calories in an hour, but he or she can drink just as much in a minute.”


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that school-aged children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17) participate in a variety of physical activities they enjoy that are appropriate for their age. They should be physically active for 60 minutes or more each day and include these elements:

  • Aerobic activity: either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (this should make up most of the 60 or more minutes a day).
  • Muscle-strengthening: activities that involve moving muscles against resistance, such as using free weights, elastic bands, or workout machines or walking/running up stairs or hills (at least three days a week).
  • Bone-strengthening: activities that produce an impact on the bones, such as hopping, skipping, jumping rope, running, weight lifting, or playing sports like volleyball, tennis, and basketball (at least three days a week).


The best way to create healthy exercise habits is to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Here are some ideas for getting your kids up and moving. 

  • Find an exercise or sport your child enjoys. In addition to team sports that schools and communities offer, dance, tennis, swimming and martial arts are good options for youngsters and teens not interested in team sports.
  • Check your local YMCA or recreation program for low-cost classes.
  • Check cable and online listings for free fitness or yoga classes you can do at home with your child.
  • Allow kids to walk to and from school, if possible.
  • Put your child in charge of walking the dog.
  • Crank up the music and sing and dance as you clean together.
  • Encourage biking or walking with friends as opposed to texting.
  • Use the time during TV commercials to do quick workouts, such as abdominal or stretching exercises or a series of planks. As a bonus, if you do this, kids won’t be using commercial time to get a snack.
  • Encourage an exercise journal—kids respond to being held accountable. 


Regular exercise helps children and adolescents control weight, build strong bones and muscles, improve heart health and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Physical activity reduces the risk of all the conditions listed below:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Obesity
Categories: Bergen Health & Life