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Early years key to building exercise habits

TUESDAY, AUG. 17, 2010

A teenager was in my office last week to have her sports physical and paperwork updated before school starts. She had questions about her body and it was a good opportunity to discuss healthy habits, the stresses of adolescence and other issues.

She had a knee injury last year, so we reviewed the exercises she learned in physical therapy to prevent reinjury this season.

I love doing sports physicals because it is a good opportunity to encourage exercise for a young person and address other concerns they may have.

Physical activity is important for everyone’s health, but making it a habit during childhood and teen years leads to a lifetime of difference. Whether it is a team sport like basketball or a more individual sport like karate, after-school sports can improve health and help develop physical coordination.

It may take a few tries, but once you find a sport your child enjoys, participation can reduce stress; improve self-confidence, focus and self-discipline (which can lead to improved classroom performance); and teach the importance of teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and time management.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily for children. This includes playtime at recess; walking to and from school or the bus stop; household chores; physical education class; playtime after school and on the weekends in the backyard, at the park or at the playground; and organized sports.

Money can be an obstacle to participation in organized sports. Some families may not feel they can afford uniforms and other gear.

The YMCA and Spokane Parks and Recreation have reduced fees for some of their activities and camps. Programs include baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming.

Sometimes schools and nonprofits have fee waiver applications to get a reduced fee or even no fee for participation or for gear. I bought my hockey gear, my bicycle and my roller blades at secondhand stores and online.

Finding time to get your kids to and from their sports program can be another obstacle, so it may be easier for your family to do things together.

A mother and daughter I know exercise together a few times a week and participate in a city soccer league. They have lost some weight and grown closer through the time they spend together.

A friend of mine in his 30s started playing hockey because his son was playing. Now they go to each other’s games.

Many parents rely on each other, taking turns taxiing the kids to practices and games.

Some sports are connected with your child’s school. Others are available through nonprofit organizations like Active 4 Youth (, 509-868-6201) and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane (; Libby Teen Center, 509-536-8152; Lisa Stiles-Gyllenhammer Club, 509-368-9175; and Northtown Club, 509-489-0741).

Our community also has upcoming opportunities for the whole family to be active. On Sunday, Howard Street between Riverside and Corbin parks will be closed off to cars for Summer Parkways (, a celebration of recreation, fitness and community.

Spokefest ( is a celebration of cycling on Sept. 12. There are four course lengths ranging from one to 46 miles, so nearly anyone with a bike can participate.

Time demands on parents and children, unsafe environments, limited or inadequate recreation and sports facilities, limited funds and the appeal of television and video games all contribute to reducing the amount of physical activity our children get.

It is important for our communities to get behind our children and improve many of these deficiencies so that all kids can be active and healthy, but as a parent, I see myself as the first line of defense in encouraging my daughter to be active.

One of her favorite activities these days is walking; sometimes it seems like she is on the go all the time. I count myself lucky and even if I am tired, I try to make time to take her walking as much as possible.

I am not saying it is easy to include sports into your and your children’s already busy lives, but the benefits can touch so many aspects of their development in positive ways that you will be gratified you took the time.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to


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