By Karen Sheehan, MD
My husband is always telling me how Chicago is a river city at heart. I have to admit that I really didn’t pay attention to him, until recently, when my daughter took up rowing. Now I spend hours along the Chicago River, and I have seen all sorts of things; many of which cannot be listed in a family-oriented blog. But I like rowing. It is a lot quieter than my daughter’s former passion, Irish Dancing, with its deafening hard-soled shoe routines and booming jigs. (This is not to say that Irish Dancing does not have its good points — competitions are always inside and a pint of Guinness is always available.)
Participating in sports is a good thing for kids. There are the obvious benefits — improved cardiovascular activity, stress reduction, and stronger muscles and bones. There are also the not so obvious — learning how to challenge one’s self, dealing with disappointment if one doesn’t win, and even to get better grades in school.
So how much exercise should your child get? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children and adolescents get 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day. And they should get three types of physical activity:
- Aerobic activity: Aerobic exercise should make up the majority of your child’s 60 minutes. Your child should do vigorous-intensity activity such as running at least three days a week.
- Muscle strengthening: Some sort of resistance training should also be done at least three days a week as part of the 60 minutes. Older kids can do exercises, such as push-ups. For younger kids, climbing on playground equipment works just as well and is much more fun.
- Bone strengthening: Running or jumping rope at least three days a week as part of the 60 minutes is a good way to help build bone strength.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem too hard to meet this goal, especially for younger children. All they need to do is play 20 minutes on the playground before school, during school, and after school and — bam — they are done. I do think it is trickier for adolescents. I am sure there are a few teens who are perfectly happy going running by themselves and then doing a rousing round of calisthenics, but not too many. Teens like to hang with their friends and prefer group sports. But by the time they get to high school, it is über competitive. A teen has to choose to play on a competitive team (or do no sports). But this comes at the expense of other worthwhile activities such as band or drama. Adults can play in recreational leagues. So I am not sure why there aren’t more options like this for teens.
It seems to me that teen recreational programming at park districts could be a great solution. Currently, the Chicago Park District is looking for input on how to improve Chicago Parks. You can vote on a variety of options or suggest some of your own.
It only takes a moment to have your say.
I am sure my husband — although he is much too polite to admit this — is hoping that the Chicago Park District will listen to you more than I sometimes listen to him.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well-being.