Most of us are all too aware of the effects upon children’s health of too much television and computer online time coupled with a diet high in junk and fast food. While this is true for boys as well, girls seem to bear the worst of these outcomes: more women than men develop diabetes at some point in their lives, usually the result of poor diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
High blood pressure and weaker bones later in life are often the result of lack of exercise or obesity. Fatigue, reduced ability to cope with stress, inability to focus on school activities, risky behavior and poor self-image are also some of the consequences girls often suffer from being out of shape.
Then there’s the issue of body image: the emulation by too many teens of tan, svelte celebrities of popular culture may have had their beginnings with the impossibly-proportioned ‘fashion’ dolls coveted by most little girls. Along with the pressure to be popular and ‘fit in’, the bombardment of ads and articles in magazines and online often feed (pun intended) a teen’s insecurity about her looks.
The flip side of obesity is bulimia and other eating disorders, which are psychological conditions requiring professional attention and treatment. These illnesses likely have their roots in our cultural expectations of (under)weight and beauty. Being ‘thin’ is mistaken for being ‘fit.’
Tips for boosting girls’ fitness levels
- Set a good example at home – your child is watching you! If you need to improve your own diet or begin an exercise routine to increase your own fitness levels, do so. Let her see your motivations and successes – actions speak louder than words.
- Take things slowly if your teen is out of shape. Too much exercise too quickly before your teen’s body can handle it will only make her want to give up. Try taking 15-minute walks daily; each week add more time and distance as her fitness levels progress.
- Make exercise fun, not a chore. Go for bike rides, hike in a nearby forest preserve, go for a swim at a water park – all are fun activities for the whole family and a great way to keep active. If she enjoys dancing, martial arts, yoga or other activities, look for classes at the YMCA, after-school classes, or a nearby fitness center.
- Encourage your daughter’s participation in sports to increase her fitness levels. Studies have shown that girls who play sports are less likely to be depressed, anxious and overweight, have better self-esteem and are better able to focus in school.
- Reduce TV or computer watching to no more than two hours a day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Use positive reinforcement to encourage change – never belittle or scold her about her appearance.
- Encourage a healthy skepticism in your daughter of media ‘messages’ about body image – especially as it applies to advertising. Boost her self-esteem by encouraging her to develop skills and talent in areas that have nothing to do with appearance, such as music, scholastic achievement, or sports.
Making exercise a family activity while she’s still young, setting a healthy parental example, encouraging participation in sports, dancing and other activities, as well as making healthy food choices will put your daughter on the path to lifetime fitness.