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Keep kids healthy over the summer

Health Columnist

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

Summer belongs to kids. It’s a time marked by freedom from school studies in exchange for a little relaxation. Though kids might be able to relax on their school work, summer is not the time to relax on healthy nutrition and physical activity. With more free time on their hands, kids have no excuse for skimping on their hour of needed physical activity each day. It’s also the perfect time to learn more about living healthy without having to worry about mastering other subjects.

So don’t let the summer go to waste and further add to the health problems of the youth in Albany by allowing children to sit in front of a TV all day. Summer is the time to get outside and get kids in action. There’s plenty of ways to enjoy a fun summer break while living a healthy lifestyle.

Participation in summer sports is a great way to keep kids active all summer long. One of the positive aspects of participating in youth sports teams is that kids often get the opportunity to interact with kids from different schools. Summer is a great time for children to make new friends outside of their circle of school friends. Summer is also an opportune time to learn new skills. With fewer distractions during the summer, kids can work on mastering certain skills and gaining the confidence that comes with improvement.

Sports camps teach kids about following rules and playing as a team. They help build confidence and often allow kids to learn more about being the best they can be in whatever they strive to achieve. Parents on a tight budget should look at finances and determine how many weeks their child can attend camp during the summer. Consider affordability as well as programming. The tendency is to think if the camp is less expensive then it must not be high quality, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Parents can do their homework and find out what’s included in the camp and make a decision based on what’s affordable. Also, some sport camps offer financial assistance for individuals in need. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask if financial assistance is available. Kids’ sports can be organized by formal leagues, loose pick-up games, scheduled classes, or neighborhood gatherings. The most important thing is that the child is comfortable and enjoying the sport.

Although it gets hot in Albany during the summer, it’s still great to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. When I was young, the kids in the neighborhood would get together and play games like freeze tag, red light-green light, relay races, whiffle ball or kick ball. Some of the most enjoyable games we played as youngsters were those that we invented on the spot. Making up games gives kids an opportunity to be physically active and use their brains at the same time. In my youth, we didn’t have the chance to sit in front of a TV or computer screen. Mom would tell us to go outside and play so we would be active. She would sit in a chair on the porch and watch us as we ripped around the yard and played.

These days, finding a place in the neighborhood that is safe can be a challenge in some areas. Consider forming a coalition with other parents and look for outdoor parks and play areas for the kids. Parents can take turns finding play areas and supervising the youngsters so everyone gets involved and no one person has to be responsible for the kids all summer long.

Summer is a great time to enjoy nature and discover wildlife. Here in south Georgia, there are numerous nature trails and opportunities to get away from city life. These are often inexpensive and a great learning resource for kids. Swimming is great exercise and keeps you cool in the south Georgia heat. Unfortunately, there are many kids in our area who don’t know how to swim. This is a safety hazard. There is no better time than the present to learn. Keep children safe by getting them involved in swim lessons. Swimming is fun for kids and teaches them a skill that will allow them to be physically fit their entire life. Swimming is an activity people can enjoy well into their elderly years.

Consider that sometimes the resources for a fun and active summer may not be right on your doorstep. You may need to drive a few miles to sites where you can swim or take a nature hike. I believe you will find this is well worth your time. I often hear people say, “It’s too far to drive to the YMCA Sorts Park pool,” or “I don’t want to drive to Albany from Lee County as it takes 20 minutes to get there.” When I lived in the suburbs of Chicago, I drove a minimum of 60 minutes one way just to get to one of the YMCA locations where I worked. Most days it was 90 minutes one way. People took 30 minutes to get to the store or movie theater due to traffic. It’s all about perspective. Here in south Georgia, we aren’t used to having to drive to take part in activities. Just remember that new experiences often mean taking a new path or stepping outside of your comfort zone.

There are so many terrific summer programs in Albany. Some are one- or two-week camps. Others are all summer long. With great programs at the Albany Museum of Art, Darton Sate College, Deerfield-Windsor School, the Flint RiverQuarium, The Kings Kids Production Company, Stoehaven Stables, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, YMCA, etc., there is no reason your kids should not be able to have fun and stay physically active this summer. These programs and camps are directed to give kids a healthy summer experience. These programs feature all sorts of creative and physical activities while kids get a chance to interact in a group. Many local churches also offer inexpensive activities over the summer, so do some investigative work and find something that meets your family needs.

To curb sedentary activity limit the amount kids spend watching television, playing online and playing video games. Karen from the YMCA told me that she removes many electronic games from the house during the summer to remove the temptation. I thought this was pretty creative. She said it also cuts down on the arguments the kids had during the day. Make it a requirement that for kids to have access to these more sedentary activities, they have to meet the minimum amount of daily physical activity.

Make sure the physical activities are fun so kids don’t feel like it’s a chore. With your help, kids can easily come up with their own weekly exercise schedule. It doesn’t have to be stringent or complicated. An exercise schedule for kids works much like an exercise schedule for adults. Kids, with your help, can decide when and what they will do, and at what time. When children are involved in the planning, they have more ownership in the program and are more likely to stay interested.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control states that 15.8 percent of Georgia teenagers are overweight, and 15 percent could be considered obese. The time to help children become interested and engaged in physical activity is before they reach their teens. Make a commitment to start this summer. And remember to set a good example yourself. While planning exercise time with your child, don’t forget to include family exercise time into the schedule. This is a perfect time to play and be with your kids over the summer months.

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.