Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 15, 2012

Ask Evelyn: Active play boosts brain power

By Evelyn Petersen, Local columnist
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---- — Q: I read an article in Good Housekeeping last year about how kids are developing problems with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure nowadays because they are inside so much playing video games and watching TV. I've seen TV specials dealing with childhood obesity. My grandchildren are already overweight at ages 6 and 8. What can we do about this? Should they go outside more? What if it isn't safe? Do infants and toddlers need more exercise? Concerned Grandma

A: Yes a lack of exercise in children's lives is a very real problem and the health risks you mentioned are real. One in three of today's children are overweight and at risk. The dangers do extend to infants and toddlers; early motor delays are rising.

When we were young many children rode bikes to school or walked. After school the first thing we did was go outside and play with other kids. We had no video games and played outdoors on the weekend. In addition, all the parents in that neighborhood kept an eye out to see that we did not get in trouble and called our own moms if we misbehaved. It was a very different kind of world than it is today.

Now most kids have long bus rides to school, parents in a neighborhood make little effort to know each other, we worry about child molesters, and most moms opt to have the kids indoors watching TV or using videos instead of going out for fresh air and exercise. It doesn't have to be that way; there are things we can do to address this problem and have healthy, active children. We still have some great fall weather ahead and we need to resolve to do this.

Active play helps children's circulation and boosts brain power as well as physical skills and bone and muscle strength. Several recent research studies state that children who play outdoors are smarter, calmer, more self disciplined and happier. What parent wouldn't want that? Here are some tips about erasing barriers to outdoor play from the Good Housekeeping article you read. Just DO IT"┬Žit is worth the effort.

n Lessen video and TV time and set up a daily outdoor play time, even if it's short.

n Make boundary rules about where and how long your children can play outside, whether it's only in your yard or some times in a neighbor's yard. Use cell phones to check in with each other.

n Meet your neighbors and agree to keep an eye on each other's kids and communicate by text messages or phone.

n Try to set up an "outdoor time" two days a week when all you neighbors agree to send kids out to play with each other. Better yet go out and play with them! This can be an enjoyable neighborhood event.

n Upgrade the play space in your back yard with a kids garden, tree house, fort, etc.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.