Alternate title: Yikes! – this is going to be a long post

It’s never too early to get kids started on notching their Iron Footprint, in fact for over 55 million reasons the earlier the better.      

Over 55 million?  The number of school-aged kids in the US.  We have work to do folks 

First, the facts – If I told you there was ONE thing that alone can optimize kids’ development you probably wouldn’t trust the hype.  Well, there IS, it is physical activity, and it uniquely and profoundly fosters physical, emotional and cognitive development, including physical vigor, motor skill proficiency, self-esteem, self-confidence, learning readiness, and attributes of emotional resiliency.  Regardless of genetic predisposition, physical activity is a SIGNIFICANT variable in optimizing development.      

The second fact is we can’t take kids’ engagement for granted; either that they will automatically engage without support or direction, or that the habits they form automatically cement and follow them across their lifespan. 

To illustrate, one measure of participation is the number of kids who play youth sports, a rite of passage for many – and we parents, but that’s for another conversation.  What is cuter than bumble-bee soccer, or t-ball, or mite hockey?  Equipment bigger than the kids, opposing teams clumped together as one herding the ball or the puck to a sometimes unknown destination.  Then the real highlight – post-game snacks, yet another topic for another time.  The memories are priceless, and these days able to be relived forever simply by logging in to one’s video download service and accessing any one of the…several you have captured for posterity, or better yet, for showing at your little darling’s wedding reception. 

More kids than ever are playing youth sports.  Good, right?  Great…for those playing and realizing a certain degree of success but the flip side is alarming – more kids than ever also are NOT playing, or quitting shortly after they begin due to feeling incompetent, which triggers underactivity that follows through adulthood.  At the ripe old age of early elementary school many declare their activity days done increasing the likelihood 10-fold they will begin to gain excess body weight and fall into the quality of life-robbing abyss of obesity.                  

 Over 12 million of our kids are obese dealing with very real adult health problems of heart disease and diabetes, and another 11 million are overweight on their way to becoming obese.  This is serious business folks for beyond the devastating health issues, they are bullied, miss more school, and according to statistics will earn significantly less than those of regular weight.  Net/net, 23 million kids are destined for a wholly diminished quality of life (and likely to put their kids at risk for the same).  AND, here is the kicker – the current generation of (all) school-aged kids is predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents – a statistic not seen in the US since the Civil War.  Think about that the next time you are at bumble bee soccer.

But take a breath because there is encouraging news.  While obesity/overweight can stem from a complex web of factors, energy balance is a primary determinant – eating more calories than exerting through movement.  With physical activity mitigation NOW most consequences are reversible, including the prospect of a long, healthy and satisfying life.  Balance-focused intervention delivered within schools has successfully leveled the prevalence and trajectory of childhood obesity and underactivity in three of the hardest hit areas (New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles) showing that once kids get moving (and address their nutrition) they are on track to reap the full spectrum of engagement benefit.                      

(Note – considering compulsory attendance, schools are the prime context to offer wide-scale engagement and can so through different channels:  physical education, intramurals, athletics, and before and after-school programming.  Sadly, across the country school physical activity time has been reduced to accommodate additional time for core subjects but it is critical for the public to understand two things: one, fit kids are better learners and do better in school than their less-fit peers, and two, sustaining physical activity time does not diminish a school’s academic performance.  We adults need to advocate for daily, quality school-based physical activity – yet another topic for a later time.)    

The other good news is we can help kids establish resilient engagement motivation just as adults by introducing them to KidPRINT, the age-appropriate version of Iron Footprint.  Mite hockey is sure cute, but the real trick is to ensure it’s but one experience of a LIFESPAN of engagement.  Imagine the density of an Iron Footprint that begins purposeful notching at an early age!  Milestone motor skill developments, clustered galaxies of FitBUBBLES, FitBESTS that show real evidence of physical maturation.  Most important, the displayed achievement fuels motivation to keep engaging!  Success begets success, regardless of age.    

(Please access the KidPRINT white paper on the website’s Iron Footprint Fitness Academy page for more information– email us at [email protected] if you have any questions or have difficulty downloading the information – thanks.)

Last, while the need for, response to, and benefit from is physical activity is gender neutral, archaic and altogether wrong wives tales, myths and folklore STILL exist about girls/women and engagement and the ‘ideal’ body.  (Please see a previous post about un-gendering activity for more detail.)  In your care-giving capacity with girls and young women, please make sure of the following: First, just as for boys, EXPECT that girls WILL be active and praise them for their achievement/performance.  This is hugely different from (merely) inviting girls to be active and praising them for their effort.  And, second, help girls become comfortable with activity and establish an achievement-oriented mindset by directly (and regularly) addressing the following:    

–Being sweaty is a good thing

–Being sore after lifting weights is a good thing

–It’s ok to feel uncomfortable / awkward when learning new skills – in fact, it’s to be expected

–Exertion can be (temporarily) uncomfortable – muscles burn, breathing hard – but from discomfort we get stronger, healthier, etc.

–Strong muscles and muscle mass are good things

–‘Toning’, ‘shaping’, and ‘sculpting’ have no relevance to health-related fitness.  These words need to be deleted from exercise/fitness vocabulary.    

If we each agree to take responsibility for the engagement of the kids that fall under our collectively speaking role of ‘dad’, no doubt we can stem the obesity and underactivity epidemics and  most important foster their best well being.  Between school and community-based programming, and KidPRINT the resources are there for the taking.   

So, are you in?  You better say yes or next post I’m going to list ALL the 55 million reasons we need to introduce our kids to KidPRINT…