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.
First Lady Michelle Obama made an appearance on comedian Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talk show to raise awareness for her “Let’s Move” campaign, which works to inspire families to combat childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes by adopting active lifestyles. The clip featured Obama and Fallon demonstrating “Mom Dancing” moves that are sure to give moms a giggle, ranging from “Raise the Roof” to the classic “Where’s Your Father (Get Him Back Here)!” Video clip below.
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.”
A growing number of boys are becoming obsessed with something that has long been a reality for tween and teenaged girls–body image. But instead of wanting to be lean and thin, these boys are after bulked-up, muscle-bound bodies, and they are going to great lengths to get them. From The New York Times:
“Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that only genetics can truly confer. Whether it is long hours in the gym, allowances blown on expensive supplements or even risky experiments with illegal steroids, the price American boys are willing to pay for the perfect body appears to be on the rise.
In a study to be published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, more than 40 percent of boys in middle school and high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass. Thirty-eight percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids.
Over all, 90 percent of the 2,800 boys in the survey — who lived in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but typify what doctors say is a national phenomenon — said they exercised at least occasionally to add muscle.
“There has been a striking change in attitudes toward male body image in the last 30 years,” said Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who studies bodybuilding culture and was not involved in the study. The portrayal of men as fat-free and chiseled “is dramatically more prevalent in society then it was a generation ago,” he said.”
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.