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Obesity and the Young: Pilates for Kids

by Wendy Gist(more info)

listed in pilates, originally published in issue 148 - June 2008

Obesity and the Young

If you worry about your child’s weight, you are not alone. It is said that if current trends continue, an estimated half of all children in England could be obese by 2020.[1] Unfortunately, the obesity rates among kids have tripled during the last 20 years.[2] One in five British children are overweight, and one in ten are obese.[3]

Childhood obesity rates are soaring dramatically around the world, prompting some experts to speak of an international epidemic. Worldwide, 155 million school-age children are overweight or obese.3 Adults are becoming desperate for integrated prevention and treatment solutions, education concerning better food choices and fun activities to design a new youth movement.

Problems Associated with Childhood Obesity

Obesity, and simply being overweight, can cause social difficulties and serious health concerns with short-term effects and lifelong problems. Here is a sampling of problems children face:
•    Low self-esteem;
•    Depression;
•    Poor body image;
•    Early puberty;
•    Type 2 diabetes;
•    Hypertension
•    Insulin resistance;
•    Orthopaedic complications;
•    Sleep apnea.
Type 2 diabetes in children (and teenagers) has increased radically in a short time; the culprit for the rise is said to be an increase in obesity in our youth. Regrettably, overweight children have a higher risk for increased mortality later in life, and obesity can decrease a person’s lifespan by nine years.3 Overweight and obese children may face higher risks of health concerns later in adulthood, such as bowel cancer, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.3 If concerned, ask your doctor to calculate your child’s weight to determine whether it falls within a healthy range. Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated, by a health care professional, from a child’s weight and height.

Parental Involvement

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
    – James A Baldwin

One obvious factor contributing to child and adolescent obesity is increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Other causes are unhealthy eating patterns, the change of pace in society, and genetics. We are our children’s role models. If we set good examples and healthy behaviours, more often than not, our kids will follow. Many children of all ages watch an over-abundance of television, and spend a disproportionate amount of time text-messaging on cell phones, computer usage and playing video games. “A direct correlation exists between the amount of time youth spend watching TV and playing video games and their probability of being overweight or obese,” reports Statistics Canada.[4] These types of sedentary activities replace time otherwise spent practising physical activity. Mothers, fathers and grandparents want to get involved and guide their kids in the right direction, while many others want to learn how to reach out and teach creative ways for kids to maintain a healthy weight. Kids may not like it at first, but as responsible parents it may prove wise to set limits to a child’s sedentary events.

Movement Motivation

Finding ways in which to increase physical activity in young children is crucial. One hopeful study published in the Public Library of Science Journal (PLoS) Medicine revealed that just 15 minutes of exercise a day could be enough for children to keep their weight at healthy levels.[5]

Pilates (Puh-la-tees) for Kids

Pilates fitness is a great way for kids to enhance physical fitness, promote good posture, spinal flexibility and body awareness

Aside from consulting with a health care provider and nutritionist who can educate adults and children concerning healthy lifestyle issues and proper eating habits, parents want hands-on ways to help their kids. Families want a fitness regime that is entertaining, fun, beneficial, and helps to sustain a healthy weight as well as increase confidence and self-esteem. Pilates should top the list of options.

Pilates is a low-impact method of exercise developed by the European fitness master, Joseph Pilates, and may offer hope in combating obesity in our youth. This well-known aerobic fitness programme attracts many devotees, as it supports posture and increases strength in both genders. The essential concept of Pilates’ philosophy is strengthening the core of the body. In particular, young children and teens can benefit, since Pilates promotes physical activity, improved body image and increased self-esteem. Combine Pilates with a well-planned weight programme to overcome obesity.

A 2006 study published in the Preventive Medicine Journal revealed that, “Girls enjoyed Pilates, and participation for four weeks lowered BMI percentile.”[6] In addition, some research also suggests that Pilates, practised on a regular basis, may increase strength as well as flexibility, and also lengthen muscles.

Kids and Pilates

Extreme Fun with Creator of Creative Pilates for Kids!

Melissa McNamara, Pilates Instructor at a Pilates studio in Toronto, Canada, creator and instructor for Creative Pilates for Kids! stresses, “I try not to focus on weight in my class. It is more important to me that the kids are moving and having fun as opposed to obsession over their waistline.”[7]

Pilates is not only fun and enjoyable but a smart move for kids and teens. With Pilates, kids don’t procrastinate when hearing the dreaded word “exercise.” “I’d rather their Pilates time be an oasis away from those pressures in mainstream society,” says McNamara, who generally works with children between the ages of six and 12.

Young people enjoy Pilates. “My goal is to help them start associating exercise with fun and a way of life rather than a fad that makes you skinny and gain a six-pack.”[7]

Benefits

Pilates is not only Enjoyable but Beneficial for Children

Pilates is known to provide a variety of benefits:
•    Weight Management;
•    Flexibility;
•    Coordination;
•    Balance;
•    Personal body image;
•    Concentration;
•    Self-Esteem;
•    Joint Mobility.
Many adults have developed faulty movement patterns in their body from lack of awareness, which leads to abnormal firing patterns and poor habitual posture. One benefit of Pilates for kids is developing this body awareness at a young age so that, as they get older, they can ward off the pain and lack of stability and mobility that comes with habitual poor posture. “I realized there was a lack of programmes designed for children, and yet there was a demand for it from concerned parents, about their children’s posture and exercise activity, who had, themselves, benefited from Pilates. This inspired me to teach a programme which combines Pilates, drama, and improvisation, as a response to this need to keep our youth fit while having fun.”[7]

When combined with team building exercises, Pilates develops a child who is confident, aware and sensitive to others. “I have found this method extremely helpful in cases of hyperactivity and extreme shyness amongst children.”[7] Those that tend to be more hyperactive and disruptive in a normal classroom setting are able to utilize that energy in a positive way, while the more reclusive child can start to open up, in a safe environment, without having to use words, which may be holding them back from expressing themselves.

Fun Classes

The classroom should be safe, entertaining and imaginative

The key is making a class fun and keeping it interesting. “We might tell a story using the Stability Balls, or using various exercises, or they’ll create their own exercises and teach me!”7 Rewarding good behaviour is excellent practice in an exercise class.

A class of nine year-old girls coming from dance class is going to be different than a class of nine-year old boys who only want to play video games and soccer. “I like to get the kids involved as much as possible in the programming of my classes. I try to cater to their needs, wants and energy levels.”[7]

Finding the Right Instructor

The key is finding a qualified instructor who is skilled in working with children

Kids enjoy kicking off their shoes, pulling out their own mats and hitting the floor to stretch and tone with an energetic, trained Pilates instructor.

“The classes I teach are fun because we play ‘games’ as opposed to ‘exercising,’ Kids don’t like exercise because it is boring or it hurts!”7 Kids have a hard time differentiating between ‘pain’ and ‘work.’ But they like to be active when there is something to gain from it.

Finding a teacher who holds small class sizes can ensure that each child receives proper supervision and instruction during a workout. In the event a child performs a move incorrectly, it can be easily corrected, avoiding unnecessary injury.

Instructors should not only have experience teaching children, but should truly enjoy working with them. Parents should look for instructors who are energetic, fun, calm and patient, in order to accommodate kids’ diverse needs. “Our classes also focus on spontaneity and creativity that can develop from mind-body exercise, the trick is to mask postural awareness and strength and focus on fun and games.”7

Flex Bands and More

Small equipment and props help keep activity interesting. The more props the kids can use, the better. Kids love playing with small equipment and fun props. Here are a few favourites:
•    Fitness Circle;
•    Bosu;
•    Stability Balls;
•    Foam Rollers;
•    Flex Bands.
The equipment and props should be used under an instructor’s supervision. Kids gain a new level of awareness, harness more creativity, and also get a sense of responsibility once they are entrusted with these ‘adult’ pieces of equipment. Kids love Pilates, so get moving and join in on the fun.

References

1.    Science and Nature: Hot Topics. The Problem with Childhood Obesity. November 2004. [Cited 22 February 2008]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/
obesity/index.shtml
2.    Science and Nature: Hot Topics. Obesity. November 2004. [cited 18 Feb 2008]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/
obesity/index.shtml
3.    Obesity Facts and Figures. 2007. [cited 18 February 2008]. Available at http://www.mendprogramme.org/mend_
programme/obesity_facts_and_figures
4.    It’s Your Health: Obesity. Health Canada. Oct. 2006. [cited 20 December 2007]. Available at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/
iyh-vsv/life-vie/obes_e.html
5.    Ness A.R. et al. Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Fat Mass in a Large Cohort of Children. PLoS Med. 4(3): e97.
6.    Jago R et al. Effect of 4 Weeks of Pilates on the Body Composition of Young Girls. Preventive Medicine. 3: 177-80. (2006).
7.    McNamara M. Interview. 26 January 2007.

Tips for Parents

Try these tips to help overcome obesity:
•    Let your kids know you love them, regardless of their weight. Offer support, approval, and encouragement;
    How: Focus on the positive, not the weight. Exercise should be fun and rewarding, not a punishment or competition.
•    Encourage physical activity. Work physical activity into a daily routine;
    How: Exercise has a positive impact on health and helps build strong bones and muscles. Encourage it. Motivate children by setting a good example. Walk, swim or roller-blade together. Block out an hour or two on your calendar for events. Plan hikes, cycling and other activities that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
•    Assign energetic chores and projects. Find chores that require movement;
    How: Try assigning yard work, gardening, window washing, and washing the car by hand.
•    Set technology limits to avoid inactivity.
    How: Turn off equipment. The TV, the computer and the cell phone can be turned off while eating meals. Set limits on inactivity. Monitor time spent playing video games. Encourage outdoor active games instead.
•    Promote healthy eating habits rich in fruits, vegetables and grains;
    How: Reduce intake of sugar beverages and soft drinks. Encourage children to drink water. Avoid or limit fast food intake. Cook healthy meals at home. Kids enjoy helping out in the kitchen. Avoid purchasing junk food high in calories, fat or sugar. Buy healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt. Teach children to eat smaller portion sizes by doing it yourself. Seek advice from a professional on healthy eating.
•    Experts advise not to use food as a reward nor lack of food as a punishment;
    How: Explore positive ways to reward and discipline. If your child is overweight, consult a health care professional to discuss BMI and develop a positive weight management plan.

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About Wendy Gist

Wendy Gist MS is Clayton College of Natural Health Honors graduate with a MS in Natural Health. She is a freelance writer; her work appears in Alternative Medicine, Better Nutrition, and other leading international publications. She may be contacted via gist@cybermesa.com www.gist-ink.com

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