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Creating a Habit for Life

There are many reasons to get children and youth involved in physical activity. An alarming two thirds of Canadian children are not sufficiently physically active for optimal growth and development and 25% of Canadian children are considered overweight.

Girls who are active in sports are 92% less likely to use drugs and 80% less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy. More than 80% of Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24 who are active have never smoked. We know healthy living is important, but how do we instill importance of an active and healthy lifestyle in our children, especially when computer games and television compete for their time.

One of the first things to do is identify what is causing inactivity in children. According to Health Canada, the barriers for children to participate in physical activities include: competitive stress, parental pressure to excel, lack of fun, lack of play time, limited opportunities for improvement and dissatisfaction with the coach or instructor. It is important that families take responsibility for their children’s health future and knock down those barriers.

By setting an example and exercising together as a family, or partnering with a child to exercise together, it is possible to eliminate many of these barriers and establish lifelong habits. Relying on physical activity in the school setting alone has limitations. While school activities can help open doors and educate, once those established formal exercise patterns are removed, many young adults find themselves having to start again. As adults, parents and role models we have to help them learn how to incorporate physical activity into their lives.

Families can exercise together in many practical ways including: children rollerblading/bike riding while parents run alongside; volunteering for your child’s soccer team; dancing after dinner; and family fitness programs such as the YMCA Fit Families or Family Learn to Run. Find out what your child enjoys and combine it with what you enjoy. It is interesting to note that what a parent does for exercise is often interesting and fun for the child as well. Check with a fitness facility to find out if your child/youth can participate with you in a fitness class. One of the most amazing things we see at the YMCA is a class full of adults and one nine year old who is participating fully with Mom.

I consider myself an active person and feel fortunate it has always been such an important part of my life. Some of my favorite and fondest memories as a child are running the Vancouver Seawall with my Dad every Saturday morning (he ran a lot longer and looped back to keep me going). Every day at the YMCA, families who come in and build healthy lifestyles together surround me and inspire me. Expectant with my first child, I’m already looking forward to the many walks, bike rides, ski trips, and more that my husband and I will share with our child. I hope that in the end, my positive influence will ensure my child has a fuller and healthier life.

Statistic Sources: Health Canada, The Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, Sport Nova Scotia, and The Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
Suzette O'Byrne is the Program Manager at YMCA Calgary - South Branch. Suzette has a BSc. in Kinesiology and has been working as a leader in the Fitness and Lifestyle industry since 1989.

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