Monday, March 11th, 2013
Physical exercise might help children cope with the effects of acute everyday stress, according to a new study conducted in Finland and published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Though the study did not control for factors like sugar intake or chronic, baseline levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, it did find that physical activity was related to better, more resilient responses to stress. The New York Times has more:
Finnish researchers had 258 8-year-old boys and girls wear accelerometers on their wrists for at least four days that registered the quality and quantity of their physical activity. Their parents used cotton swabs to take saliva samples at various times throughout a single day, which the researchers used to assess levels of cortisol, a hormone typically induced by physical or mental stress.
There was no difference in the cortisol levels at home between children who were active and those who were less active. But when the researchers gave the children a standard psychosocial stress test at a clinic involving arithmetic and storytelling challenges, they found that those who had not engaged in physical activity had raised cortisol levels. The children who had moderate or vigorous physical activity showed relatively no rise in cortisol levels.
Those results indicate a more positive physiological response to stress by children who were more active, the researchers said in a study that was published this week in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The children who were least active had the highest levels.
“This study shows that children who are more active throughout their day have a better hormonal response to an acute stressful situation,” said Disa Hatfield, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island, who was not involved in the study.
Image: Child climbing on playground, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
At 9 years old, Breanna Bond weighed 186 pounds, a number that had her doctor and her family alike worried for her health in an age of childhood obesity and rampant Type II diabetes that affects an estimated 12.5 million U.S. children. As CNN.com reports, the involvement of the whole family was the key motivating factor that helped Breanna shed 65 pounds:
“Conversations about a child’s weight can be fraught with psychological landmines, says Dr. Denise Wilfley, director of the Weight Management & Eating Disorders Program at Washington University School of Medicine.
“Mainly what we suggest is actually having the whole family take on a healthier lifestyle — for everybody to eat as well as possible, as nutritiously as possible, so the overweight child is not singled out,” she says.
Wilfley encourages parents in her programs to “walk the walk” and be a role model for their children. She talks about food as energy for kids’ bodies — eating better will help them think harder, jump higher, play more.
Her families try to follow the traffic light diet, with green-light foods such as vegetables, yellow-light foods such as lean protein and red-light foods such as sweets or simple carbohydrates.
“We focus a lot on not defining self-worth by the number on the scale,” she says. “The best way to prevent eating disorders is having very healthy eating patterns.”
[Heidi] Bond realized that in order to get [her daughter] Breanna to exercise regularly, they would had to make it a family activity. The Bonds started walking four miles, four days a week, on a trail near their home in Clovis, California.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Bond says. “There were times where she refused to move.” But in the end, “a little tough love to save the rest of their life” was worth it, she says.
It’s best to avoid a power struggle when it comes to exercise and healthy eating, according to Jelalian. She says it’s easy for parents to become the “food police” without getting at the deeper issues. Parents should ask why a child wants a certain food or doesn’t want to work out and problem-solve with them to find a healthy alternative.
She recommends parents give their kids a choice as much as possible — not about being active or not active, but about what activity they want to do.
“It really takes that balance in parenting of being firm — this part is not negotiable, but being warm, caring in how you do that.”
Identifying your child’s motivation for losing weight is key, Wilfley says. Do they want to be able to run faster? Play football? Avoid teasing at school? Combining that goal with incentives such as sleepovers or family outings should help to keep a child motivated.”
Image: Family nature walk, via Shutterstock
Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Children under the age of six should have at least three hours of exercise each day, according to a report written by a consortium of pediatric groups from the U.K., the U.S., and Australia. Boston.com reports on the paper, which was published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine:
The new guidelines are partly in response to the soaring obesity rates among young children. For example, 26.7 percent of US children between the ages of two and five are obese or overweight, researchers Russell Pate and Jennifer O’Neill, of the University of South Carolina, wrote. Plus, studies have shown that young children rarely get the activity they need. According to studies using accelerometers (wristwatch-like devices that measure physical activity), preschool-age kids get only sporadic exercise, with very little of it vigorous. For children under six, experts generally advise a combination of light activity and energetic activity throughout the day.
The experts listed a number of activities that qualify for both the “light” and “energetic” categories, including walking, dancing, skipping rope, and hide-and-seek type games.
Image: Kids playing, via Shutterstock
Friday, October 5th, 2012
Kids who participate in school or community based exercise programs get more movement in their lives during the programs themselves, but are not likely to carry that over into a more active lifestyle, a new review of program outcomes in the US and UK has found. From The New York Times:
To be included in the review, the studies had to have involved children younger than 16, lasted for at least four weeks, and reported objectively measured levels of physical fitness, like wearing motion sensors that tracked how much they moved, not just during the exercise classes but throughout the rest of the day. The studies included an American program in which elementary school-age students were led through a 90-minute session of vigorous running and playing after school, three times a week. Another program involved Scottish preschool youngsters and 30 minutes of moderate physical playtime during school hours, three times a week.
In each case, the investigators had expected that the programs would increase the children’s overall daily physical activity.
That didn’t happen, as the review’s authors found when they carefully parsed outcomes. The American students, for instance, increased their overall daily physical activity by about five minutes per day. But only during the first few weeks of the program; by the end, their overall daily physical activity had returned to about where it had been before the program began. The wee Scottish participants actually became less physically active over all on the days when they had the 30-minute play sessions.
The review authors found similar results for the rest of the studies that they perused. In general, well-designed, well-implemented and obviously very well-meaning physical activity interventions, including ones lasting for up to 90 minutes, added at best about four minutes of additional walking or running to most youngsters’ overall daily physical activity levels.
The programs “just didn’t work,” at least in terms of getting young people to move more, said Brad Metcalf, a research fellow and medical statistician at Peninsula College, who led the review.
Parents might want to consider incorporating more active time into home life, such as these yoga moves designed for families by Parents.com.
Image: Red tricycle, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
A review of 14 scientific studies has found that regular physical exercise has benefits beyond cardiovascular health–it also can help kids perform better in the classroom. The New York Times reports:
…all three of the studies that measured time spent in physical activity found it associated with academic performance, and the two rated highest in methodological quality confirmed a positive relationship between physical activity and school achievement.
The reasons for the connection are unknown, but the researchers suggest that exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and may lead to increased levels of norepinephrine and endorphins, important in stress reduction.
The lead author, Amika S. Singh, a senior researcher at VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said there was no evidence about exactly how much or what kind of exercise is beneficial. But, she added, “I think it’s healthy to look for a good balance between time spent in academic work and in physical activity.”
Image: Girl playing in the snow, via Shutterstock.