Get Fit With Play (and the Giants' Victor Cruz)

Are your kids playing enough? There's so much evidence that making time to just run around can benefit kids (and us parents) in more ways than one.

A review of 86 articles published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity concludes that physical activity in children is associated with numerous health benefits including reduced body weight and improved cardiovascular health.

While the review found that more physical activity was linked with greater health benefits, even modest amounts of physical activity were shown to have tremendous health benefits in high-risk children (e.g., those who were obese or had high blood pressure). And while moderate physical activity is recommended, vigorous activities also can provide even more health benefits.

The review confirms that although aerobic-based activities like running and biking have the greatest health benefit since they stress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, high-impact weight bearing activities can benefit kids' bones.

According to The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments, being active can be a boon to kids when it comes to academic performance and the ability to concentrate in class. Despite the health and other benefits of physical activity, only one in three kids are active each day.

Although children and parents know it's vital to incorporate physical activity into their lives, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. That's why I'm excited about the new 'For the Love of Play' campaign.

Launched by Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation's largest in-school wellness program created by the National Football League and National Dairy Council and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just the name of the campaign makes being active and fit sound fun and not like a chore that must be done. The goal of the campaign is to encourage not just children, but parents, teachers, and really everyone to get up, get active, and play for at least 60 minutes a day.

The campaign has enlisted the support of Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cruz about his own experience and thoughts about getting and staying fit. And who knew he could hula hoop?! Even more reason to love him! Here are some highlights from our interview:

EZ: What are some activities you enjoyed most as a kid?

VC: I grew up on a one-way block, along with seven boys who were all my age. I loved so many sports, and together, my friends and I played everything: dodgeball, baseball, wall ball, basketball, and of course football!

EZ: I read that when you were in college, you—like many student athletes—struggled balancing football with your academic studies. What helped you overcome that, and what would you tell kids who want to succeed both on and off the field/court?

VC: I always say to each his own. We each have our own goals. The key is to take advantage of your talents and passions when you're young, and to learn to manage your time. You're only young once, so it's important to look at the big picture and decide what your goals are and how you're going to achieve them whether that's playing a specific sport competitively or studying for a specific career. Sometimes you'll have to make choices and decisions—like choosing to study that extra hour instead of seeing friends. But if you stay true to yourself and learn to budget your time, and cut back if what you're doing stresses you out too much, it'll all work out in the end.

EZ: What are some physical activities you enjoy doing with your daughter?

VC: I spend a lot of time with my daughter and my nephews playing basketball, dancing, walking, or just jumping around. Even in the winter, when it snows, we play football and make snow men. And my daughter loves to make angels in the snow. No matter what the weather, we find something to do to stay active and have fun at the same time.

EZ: What's your advice for children or adults who get sidelined with injury and can't be as active as they'd like?

VC: Even if you're hurt, there are different ways you can move to stay in shape and get some physical activity in. For example, if you hurt your arm, you can still workout your legs, do calisthenics, or walk outside or on a treadmill. Even if you're sad or distraught by your injury, it's important to try to continue your passion to lead an active life to stay ahead of the curve and competition (especially if you're a competitive athlete). You also need to tell the negative voices in your head to stay positive and to keep positive people around you as you heal.

EZ: What excited you about the 'For the Love of Play' campaign?

VC: I wanted to get involved because I love helping kids get active. When I was young, I played a ton—mostly outside. Of course that was before video games, which now keep kids inside and on the couch. As a kid, I always wanted to get outside and play—and play hard. So this campaign is a perfect fit for me and gives me a great opportunity to encourage kids and the adults who care for them to get out and play for a total of 60 minutes a day at school, at home, and everywhere in between.

EZ: What are some perks (besides the obvious!) that you've derived from being active?

VC: Being active helps me feel more focused and provides me with a positive jump start to my day. Staying active keeps my body in line, and is a catalyst that makes me want to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle. It makes me want to not only put positive things (like healthy foods) into my body, but to put out positivity to the rest of the world.

Students, parents, and educators can get more information and learn more about 'For the Love of Play' campaign and how to participate in the #LoveOfPlay social media sweepstakes for a chance to win NFL prizes by visiting Fuel Up to Play 60.

Check out my previous Scoop on Food post, 11 Tips to Nourish Active Kids, here.

How do you and your kids/students stay fit?

Image of Victor Cruz hula hooping via Greg Tietell.

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