CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
My daughter is nearly 10 and overweight. I have introduced her to various activities including dance and sports, but she is not comfortable competing against those who are physically conditioned. Her size makes it practically impossible to come away from an activity feeling good, so she continues to do nothing. When I invite her to take walks with me, she refuses and says it is embarrassing. I don't know how to handle this. Can you help? -- Mom
While you are not alone in your concern for your child, this is not the time to throw in the towel. Unfortunately, this is facing more and more parents in today's world.
The scenario goes pretty much like this: A child who is slightly overweight begins opting for less and less activity. Soon they are no longer comfortable with activity, so they shy away from most activity. They find themselves trapped in a sedentary lifestyle, unable and unmotivated to find a way out.
Of course, caring parents are desperate to get their children moving. They realize the negative consequences. You might be advised to direct them to a competitive sport, which is like expecting them to be excited about jumping from an airplane without a parachute. They are not equipped and they know it. Being fairly adept at predicting their future, they understandably turn away from any activity they can't master. Children who view themselves as overweight and noncompetitive often are struggling with self-confidence and esteem issues also.
But there's hope and some very doable solutions to this problem. First, look for an activity that is noncompetitive and perhaps can be learned alone, such as bowling, hiking, kayaking, tennis, aikido or swimming.
If your daughter is not interested in any of these, get her involved in strength and conditioning, which, in my opinion, is the single best activity for children and adults alike. It not only builds stronger hearts and muscles, but it also builds self-confidence, which is the key that will unlock the world to her.
My recommendation of strength training for children age 8 and older comes with the endorsement of American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. They support children as young as age 6 in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs.
One of the leading researchers on this subject is Dr. Wayne Westcott, fitness research director at Quincy College in Quincy, Mass. He has been a strength training consultant for the U.S. Navy, the American Council on Exercise, YMCA of the USA and Nautilus. He has written numerous books on strength training, and many of us in the fitness industry have built our reference library around him.
Westcott is passionate with his message that children need to strength train using resistance machines, free weights, resistance bands or even their own bodyweight. His studies make it clear that even minimal strength training efforts can translate into positive, life-changing results.
In fact, major studies according to Westcott and Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, at the University of Massachusetts, revealed significant strength improvements in boys and girls ages 10 to 14 after only eight weeks of sensible strength training.
Even more exciting was that there were remarkable improvements in body composition in these children. On the average, the young strength exercisers added 3 to 4 pounds of lean weight and lost 1 to 2.5 pounds of fat weight during the training period. In addition, children are usually ready to begin strength training when they are emotionally mature enough to follow instructions.
They recommend the following: