Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Physical Education Encourages Healthy Students

Christine Gates - Junior
The University of Dayton's Student Newspaper

The other day I was sitting in chapter waiting for a student (not in my chapter) to give a presentation about recruitment. As I was sitting there we started conversation with the typical name, grade, major, etc. When I answered the question about my major, I proudly replied "physical education." "Oh you mean gym," she replied. "That's kind of a fancy name for gym," she commented. In this article I wanted to clarify the common misconceptions of the stereotypical "gym" teacher. Growing up, our generation and our parents' generation spent their physical education classes with a "gym" teacher. The kind of teacher that rolled out the soccer ball, said play ball, and then would go back to eating his doughnut and reading his paper. This is where the title physical education slipped into the gym teacher.

However, my colleagues and I do not see ourselves as gym teachers with the doughnut and paper in hand. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says 16.3 percent of children and adolescence from ages 2 to 19 are obese, 35.3 percent of adult women are obese, and 33.3 percent of adult men are obese. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30. In this day and age with the constant rise of obesity rates the need for quality, physical education is in even greater demand. Our job as physical educators is to educate our students about health issues, eating right, and participating in physical activity. Our job is to use the 30 to 40 minutes we have a week with the students to get the students' heart rates up by implementing constant activity right when the students walk into the classroom. Our job is to give the students exposure to all forms of activity so that students can find an activity they enjoy doing and that they will continue for the rest of their life. The ACSM (American College for Sports Medicine) recommends moderate aerobic physical activity at a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week, vigorous aerobic activity at a minimum of 20 minutes three days a week, two or more nonconsecutive days of weight training, and two to three days of flexibility training. My job and my colleagues' jobs are to share this information with the students we teacher so that the prevalence of obesity and the diseases it causes will no longer be an American epidemic.

Mull Elementary hosts pilot exercise, nutrition program

By Tracy Farnham | The News Herald

MORGANTON - Beginning in October, Mull Elementary School challenged not only staff but also students and parents to make the community healthier by eating smarter and moving more. They call the challenge "Mustangs in Motion."
As a pilot program, the goal is to reduce childhood obesity.
Initially, each student's body mass index was calculated.
Through this the school learned that 14 percent of students in kindergarten through second grade were overweight with 16 percent in the same age group were obese. Fifteen percent of third through fifth graders were overweight with 23 percent being obese.
Developed in conjunction with the Burke County School Health Advisory Council, this program was implemented to help meet the health challenges faced by Burke County residents.
The council believes a solid school health program will carry over into the general adult population and deliver a healthier Burke County.
Lisa Moore, health education supervisor and health promotion coordinator with the Burke County Health Department, provides information and resources and facilitates monthly family nights to encourage physical activity with the entire family.
Recently, parents, students and faculty gathered for family night, which included recognizing February as National Children's Health month and playing musical chairs along with other games to get everyone moving.
Tammy Collins has enjoyed the informative family nights. "I think it's a great idea and gives everyone something to look forward to." Collins said she learned healthier recipes, including an alternative healthier ranch dip.
This assessment will be conducted at the end of the school year to track changes.
Principal Jill King encouraged the staff to take advantage of fitness opportunities, including yoga and aerobics. They made a fitness room from used equipment, including a stair climber and treadmill donated by Blue Ridge HealthCare, Miller said.
"This gives the teachers an opportunity to do that on campus and not have to go elsewhere. They can use the room anytime it is available," she said.
"We are very pleased with what we're seeing school- wide, in the faculty and the community," King said.
"Our families have really bought into the nutrition and exercise and the snacks our students bring have really become more nutritious," King said.
Second-grade teacher Kim Eakin said, "During snack time at school I try to monitor the student's snacks, and I make a big deal out of a healthy snack. Apples are a healthy choice," Eakin said.
She doesn't belittle an unhealthy choice, but might say donuts are not the best choice for a school snack and ask the student if he or she could bring a healthier choice the next day.
"It is usually effective because students want to be recognized for making healthy choices," she said.
As a mom of three Mustangs (in first, third and fifth grades), Eakin said her family spends more time outside and chose not to have cable or satellite television.
"It was initially an economic necessity, however we have decided that the television is a huge time stealer," she said. The occasional movie is a planned family event.
"We read more frequently, and we play family games. We are able to talk and enjoy the conversation," she said.
In addition, Eakin said her family has made healthier eating choices eating more whole grains and almost no salt along with less sugar.
"I really try to moderate eating more vegetables and fruit. We ate a whole bag of apples in two days," she said.
In the classroom her students do energizers on days they don't have PE.
"We may jog in place while saying our spelling words three times each or do jumping jacks while making a sentence with one of the spelling or vocabulary words," Eakin said.
Mull health and PE teacher Kristie Stephens said she's in favor of the program.
"It has a great health aspect and more physical education and parent involvement."
Participants have filled out a survey asking for their thoughts on the program and what they would like to see. Also, they have been asked about any changes they have made.
Stephens said tutorials about healthy eating choices were handed out and they will soon log 60 minutes of daily activity that students will do at home with their families.

Log onto MyEatSmartMoveMore.com or sign up for a free newsletter with more ideas to help you eat smart and move more.

Seven steps to help kids slim down

By Jeannine Stein
LA Times Blog

Childhood obesity is a thorny issue without simple solutions, but that hasn't daunted healthcare experts who work diligently to come up with viable proposals to help kids lose weight and get in shape.

The most recent strategy is the "Seven Steps to Success: A handout for parents of overweight children and adolescents," designed by physicians and weight-loss experts to be worked in progressive stages: medical management, education, environmental changes, support groups, two forms of cognitive behavior therapy (clinic or short-term, and long-term) and bariatric surgery.

The steps, published in the February issue of the journal Obesity Management, are a reaction to a detailed article published in the journal Pediatrics in 2007. That article also outlined a multi-pronged approach to obesity, including prevention, structured weight management that includes medical screenings, physical activity and diet; a multidisciplinary intervention with food monitoring and structured exercise; and very-low-calorie diets and bariatric surgery (this updated a less comprehensive plan published in that journal in 1998).

But not everyone in the field of childhood obesity was satisfied with all the suggestions outlined in the Pediatrics paper -- some objected to the education-oriented proposals. "An educational approach is very popular in the United States, but it's very ineffective," said Daniel Kirschenbaum, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and co-author of the Obesity Management article. Providing information about eating more fruits and vegetables may be well-meaning, he added, but it's not so useful for prompting sustainable changes.

The seven steps ratchet up in intensity, requiring more effort and commitment to achieve results. "Try one intervention," he said, "and if in a month you're not making progress, try another one. Science has taught us that you can tell pretty quickly if something isn't working."

The plan presumes that the entire family is involved with the process -- previous studies have shown that better results come from a collaborative effort, not from telling one kid he has to eat chicken breasts and broccoli while the rest of the family gobbles pizza. As children segue into adolescence, he added, they can do more on their own. For behavioral therapy, the plan suggests starting with groups such as Weight Watchers or Take Off Pounds Sensibly that offer support, education and accountability and allow parents and children to work together. "These are very low-cost alternatives where people can come in every week," he said, "but they have to be willing to work." If those don't provide suitable results, parents can opt for more intense group sessions run by trained weight-loss professionals.

Bariatric surgery, Kirschenbaum said, may be a viable option for certain kids and teens, although it's not a decision to enter into lightly. Most clinics require patients to meet parameters such as being quite overweight and providing proof they've tried other weight-loss methods. Support -- before and after surgery -- and behavior modification are also essential components.

How should parents approach the list? Kirschenbaum says they shouldn't go it alone because navigating the steps may prove intimidating and frustrating. "They should take it to their primary care physicians and get some help in making sense of it," he said. It works in reverse, too -- healthcare professionals can show it to their patients to begin a discussion about weight loss. "You should talk about it, see what you think. If you don't set a target for something, you're not going to reach it."

Expert Opinion: Educating kids about nutrition, foods is first line of defense

By Tom Valeo, Times Correspondent

ST. PETERSBURG — As a teacher, advocate and parent, Julie Ryczek has spent a quarter-century on the front lines in the war against childhood obesity.

Ryczek, who teaches fifth grade at Bay Point Elementary School in St. Petersburg, recently was lauded by Gov. Charlie Crist as the Point of Light for Fitness/Nutrition Awareness Month, recognizing her tireless efforts to promote wellness.

She serves on the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, and her students have participated in the Governor's Fitness Challenge and other programs designed to promote a healthy lifestyle. She is also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. She is a longtime volunteer with the Kiwanis Club, Pinellas On the Move, Children's Dream Fund, Healthy Kids Day, Save the Kids Coalition and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Ryczek, 46, practices what she preaches. She has been a cheerleader, a gymnast and an aerobics teacher, and these days she runs competitively and organizes races.

"People might not remember my name, but they remember my passion," Ryczek said. "I love it when former students come back and say, 'You always wanted us to be healthy and heart smart.' "

Why are you so concerned about childhood obesity?

I've been an educator for 25 years, and I've watched the rate of obesity steadily rise. More than 9 million children in this country are obese — triple the number in 1989. It's going to be a catastrophe for our health care system because obesity can increase the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, lots of different health conditions.

What do you do to make children aware of how they eat?

We talk about the food pyramid, and how to read nutritional labels. And I always tell the kids, "Have a great day — go out and play.'' It's silly, but they remember it.

Give an example of something that has helped to make students more aware of healthy lifestyle choices.

Today we started Fresh Fruit Friday at my school. We sold apples and bananas before and after school, and we sold out. The students were engaged in it. I want to help them to make better food choices by providing snacks that are healthy and heart smart.

Why are children today more prone to obesity?

Their portions are too large, but another problem is the food choices children make. That's why we need to educate families and children on how to make better choices.

Do you think fast food restaurants contribute to the obesity epidemic?

I'm a parent myself, so I know about the convenience of fast food, and I know that has hurt us. But the fast food companies have changed. They have healthy foods on their menu now.

They put nutritional labels in their restaurants. Some fast food restaurants have playgrounds, so physical activity is incorporated.

Which works better at getting children to change their habits — awareness or fear?

Definitely education and awareness. We start young — I want to start in preschools — because if we educate the children, they'll educate their parents.

Do you ever have moments when you feel you're really making a difference?

Every day. At a supermarket I ask, why not have apples, bananas and grapes at the checkout counter instead of candy?

When I go into convenience stores I always ask, "Do you have any fresh fruit?" But we all need to work together for change. We can make it happen. Twenty-five years ago there was an ashtray everywhere you looked. Now there are no ashtrays.

That was a societal change, and we can do the same thing with food choices. People say children won't eat health food, but they will if we just promote health and nutrition.

Facial features may predict obesity

By James Thalman
Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT)

Facial features as a teenager could be one of the clearest predictors of adult obesity and related chronic medical conditions — including early sudden death — according to new study by a Utah State University demographer.

Reporting in the journal Demography, Eric Reither and fellow researchers Robert Hauser and Karen Swallen find that weight status measured, in this case, from high school yearbook photographs, is a significant predictor of actual obesity.

Reither, an assistant professor of sociology at USU, and his colleagues devised a scale to capture facial characteristics, such as those involving the cheek and neck, as a means of estimating body mass. The study used 3,027 randomly chosen photographs from the more than 10,000 graduates from Wisconsin's high school class of 1957, who are part of the famous Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the longest sociological investigations ever undertaken. Started at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957 as a survey of high school seniors' post-graduation plans, the WLS has evolved since into a study of the entire life course, including education, career, family, aging and retirement.

In Reither's study, those classified as overweight as high school seniors were three times as likely to be obese when interviewed in their early 50s. They also reported more health problems.

The researchers found that adolescents judged to be overweight based on the photographs were twice as likely to have died early in the study as those judged to be at a healthy weight. They were four times as likely to have died as the result of heart disease.

The findings have a number of implications, particularly in relation to the rapid increase in type 2 diabetes — the condition acquired due to poor diet and little exercise that most associated with the adult-onset type.

"The rapid increase in type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents in the U.S. is unprecedented and deeply troubling," Reither told the newspaper Friday. "It signifies that children are gaining excess weight earlier in life and to a greater extent than at any other time in our history," he said, adding that only a very small fraction of survey participants in the WLS would have suffered from childhood diabetes.

Having the facial features indicating that someone is prone to diabetes doesn't mean developing it is a given, he said. "The scientific literature is unequivocal that routine physical activity and the moderation of calorie intake can help with weight management and the prevention of many chronic diseases."

And even for people who already suffer from conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, regular exercise and dietary improvements have been shown to have very beneficial effects, Reither noted.

"The problem is that most people already know this but struggle to make the changes necessary to see real improvement," he said.

"I think it is very important to emphasize that a substantial body of research, including our own investigation, suggests that excess weight in childhood and adolescence tends to be neither temporary nor harmless," he said. "The incredible spike in type 2 diabetes among children in the U.S. highlights the importance of weight maintenance at all points in the life course, including early childhood."

Reither isn't a nutritionist or trainer, but he suggests several steps to anyone who might be borderline diabetic or is beginning a weight maintenance program:

Read "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan. The University of California, Berkeley journalism professor cuts through the complicated and sometimes conflicting science of "nutritionism" to offer this simple mantra: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Incorporate physical activity into daily routines. Simple measures like taking stairs, using public transportation (which often necessitates walking several blocks to the office or store) and riding a bicycle on short errands can increase both fitness and calorie expenditure.

Keep in mind that despite the relatively low prevalence of people who are overweight and obese in Utah, rates of people who are overweight and obese are on the rise in Utah just as they are nationwide.

Reither, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said parents should recognize that studies, including his own, show that being overweight in childhood and adolescence poses a considerable risk to long-term health, and even longevity (see the Web link at the end of this article as just one example of such research). Interestingly, some research, including a study he coauthored in Pediatrics suggests that the psychological and social complications of childhood obesity may be exaggerated by studies that rely on clinical samples.

This is an issue that is still unresolved in scientific literature, he said, noting that the scientific evidence is very clear that being overweight and obese at young ages can have both immediate and lifelong ramifications for physical health.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Childhood Obesity is a Form of Child Abuse

By Tommy Shook

Frederic J. Frommer Reports in the March 19 edition of The Washington Post that NFL football players were in Washington to lobby Congress to pass the FIT Kids Act. This legislation would require school districts to report on kids' physical activity levels and to provide health and nutritional education. This is being done to curb the rising childhood obesity epidemic. Approximately 15% of children in the U.S. are now classified as either overweight or obese. This figure has DOUBLED since the mid 1970's. Everywhere we are looking for someone to blame for this problem: the fast-food industry, video games, school budget crunches, etc. Children are extremely vulnerable to the effects of neglect, apathy, and poor decision making on the part of adults in our society, so all of these factors do contribute but the problem lies even deeper.

The real culprit in all of this is ourselves. We, as a society, have allowed this to happen. We are all to blame for the problem and unless we’re part of the solution…well, you know the rest of the cliché. We have created a society that favors sedentism over activity and that same ethos is impacting our kids. We have decided that children aren’t productive and valued members of society so we legislate money out of the budgets of school districts, causing administrators to make choices about where to spend their shrinking allocations. Guess what, that usually means that so-called non-essential courses are cut out. These include art, music, theatre and naturally physical education. In the same desperate attempt to stretch their budgets further, schools allow companies to place vending machines in their cafeterias and offer alternative a-la-cart items that generate more revenue for the schools. The snack machine suppliers are all too happy to oblige as it leads to increased profits. When was the last time anyone saw fruit in a vending machine? We tear down playgrounds to put up parking garages or we let them fall into such a state of disrepair that they become dangerous for kids to even play on. At home, parents allow their kids to watch television, play video games and surf the Internet for hours at a time. During those hours of television, advertising for junk food constantly bombards children. These same parents don’t require that their children get regular activity and they allow snacking and unhealthy foods for their children, usually setting the example themselves by exhibiting the same unhealthy habits. The parents, in many cases, believe that the responsibility of educating their children rests with the state. It doesn’t. It is the responsibility of parents to take an active interest in seeing to it that their children are properly educated and that education must include health and physical education.

We, as parents and citizens need to get involved. Turn off the T.V. and get your kids moving. Engage them in fun activities that promote exercise and play. Teach them the importance of healthy eating and prepare healthy meals for them. Limit their intake of junk foods. Get involved with the PTA, local school board, city counsel, etc. and become active in the decision making process. Demand that vending machines be removed and higher quality and healthier school lunches be provided. Champion the cause for physical education in schools, volunteer to coach an after school sport or activity group. Start a community project to build a playground or improve upon an existing one. We can no longer expect someone else to solve this problem, we must take action ourselves in order to give our children a healthier and happier life.

Childhood diet can determine breast cancer risk in later life

London,(ANI): Breast cancer is associated with the diet that women had when they were young, says a new study.

The study has revealed that girls’ diet and the amount of exercise they take can determine their risk of breast cancer in later life, reports the Daily Express.

An analysis of 1,146 girls from birth to age 13 linked obesity and lack of exercise to an increased risk of breast cancer.

It also highlighted a link between the disease and exposure to ‘gender-bending’ chemicals in childhood.

The study was led by Professor Jaak Janssens, president of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation, in Hasselt, Belgium.

"Breast cancer seems to originate almost entirely in childhood.

The breast is most vulnerable at the very onset of development. Further research should focus on nutrition in children and breast cancer risk to prevent the disease," the Daily Express quoted the study, as saying.

Janssens and his colleagues studied medical reports, which show a well-established link between early puberty and breast development and later breast cancer risk.

His studies the girls in his group to see what factors, including nutrition influenced early puberty development.

"Childhood obesity, lack of physical activity, high glycemic (processed) carbohydrate consumption," were among the "strongest determinants influencing the onset of puberty," the study said.n addition, it revealed a history of glandular fever might also have an influence on later risk.

And it cited ‘exposure to oestrogens’ found in plastic babies’ bottles and plastic toys as another risk factor.

The study is published in the journal Paediatrics. (ANI)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Teach A Healthy Body, Get A Healthy Mind

I thought this was interesting because this is the program I used when I taught in Missouri, and now have brought it to my school here in Tennessee.-Coach Lewis

Watch CBS Videos Online

(CBS) Over the last year, El Paso eighth grader Valerie Gomez has grown five inches and dropped 25 pounds - quite a change from when CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers first met her 18 months ago.

“I really feel that there’s a girl behind a big huge girl that I would like to show everybody else,” Valerie said a year ago.

“Last time we talked, you said there was a different girl waiting to come out,” Bowers said. “Is she coming out?”

“Yes, she is, she is,” Valerie answered. “I think she is. She’s not really here, not like all of her, but she’s coming out.” Valerie is part of "the fitnessgram," a Texas experiment that mandates daily physical education and annual fitness tests for the state's 2.4 million kids ages 8 to 18.

“Now that they have those standards, it’s like a wake-up call for them,” said George Nunez, a P.E. teacher. “That gives them an incentive to push.”

The idea was proposed in part to help combat the state's troubling childhood obesity rates, but this first-of its-kind study also set out to prove physically fit kids make for better students - and the results are in.

After just one year officials say Texas school kids are performing better on standardized tests. And as fitness rates rose, absentee rates dropped, and so did reports of discipline problems.

And there is a direct correlation between more cardiovascular activity and better grades. At the top performing schools - where at least 90 percent of the kids pass the state assessments tests - 80 percent of the students are fit. And at the poorest performing schools? Only 40 percent make the fitness grade.

Valerie said that it has changed her life. “Like last year I got tested and I saw that I did bad, and then I did it this year and I saw that I could do twice as much as I did last year,” she said. “It really brought a smile to my face.”

Texas officials are smiling too, but they're not done yet. They believe the harder they can push the kids to become more physically fit, the harder the kids will push themselves in the classroom.


Fit student, fit mind?

Study linking fitness, test scores coincides with bill that would boost physical education.
By Molly Bloom

Students who are physically fit are more likely to pass state tests and attend school regularly, regardless of their race and family income levels, a study of 2.4 million Texas students by a Dallas medical research institute shows.

The nonprofit Cooper Institute's researchers also found that fit students are less likely to get in trouble at school.

State officials seized on the findings to push for more physical education and for incentive programs that would reward students for improving their fitness.

"Now, we have hard evidence that there is a link between fitness and academic success," Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said at a news conference Monday. Nelson has introduced a bill that would increase school physical activity requirements for sixth- through eighth-graders from 30 minutes a day for four semesters to 30 minutes a day throughout middle school.

Gov. Rick Perry said he would include money in his budget for fitness incentive programs similar to workplace programs that offer gift certificates to employees who lose weight or quit smoking.

"The sooner we can apply these principles where they can make a difference, the better," Perry said.

The study findings are based on the results of cardiovascular fitness tests — a one-mile run or similar evaluation — given to third- through 12th-grade students during the 2007-08 school year. The tests were administered under a state law requiring schools to give a series of six fitness tests and report results to the state.

Cooper researchers analyzed data from 6,532 campuses, which represents about 75 percent of public schools in Texas.

Research has shown that children who are Hispanic or African American, or who come from low-income families tend to have higher levels of physical inactivity and obesity, putting them at higher risk of developing such health problems as diabetes and heart, joint and bone diseases.

Low-income students in Austin tend to be less fit than students from wealthier families. And Austin's Hispanic students tend to be less fit than students of other races, according to state data.

State figures also show that the scores of low-income, African American and Hispanic students lag behind those of students overall on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

But even after accounting for poverty, race and ethnicity, and for the relative sizes of various schools, Cooper researchers found a strong connection between the cardiovascular fitness of students and their TAKS performance. They also found connections between students' fitness levels and a school's average daily attendance.

Students with higher fitness levels were also less likely to be disciplined for drug, alcohol, violence and truancy violations.

Cooper researchers have submitted their study to the Journal of the American Medical Association for peer review and publication. Researchers said journal rules bar them from releasing a complete copy of the report until it is accepted or rejected for publication.

"Exercise is fertilizer for the brain," said Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder and chairman of the institute. "Increased exercise improves cardiovascular health, and that helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances its ability to learn."


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exercise Improves Kids' Academics

By Dan Peterson, LiveScience's Sports Columnist

The end of 2008 brings some discouraging news about our kids' brains and brawn. Recent results from an international math and science test show United States students are performing near the middle of the pack compared to other countries, while their levels of obesity continue to climb.

Historically, these two trends were studied independently with plans of action developed for each. However, several researchers and a new book have been making the case for linking these two problems by showing the effects of aerobic exercise not only on a student's fitness level but also on their test scores.

Earlier this month, the latest (2007) TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) scores were released. They compare fourth grade students from 36 countries and eighth grade students from 48 countries. They were tested on subjects that were common to all of the countries, including algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics. Overall, 425,000 students participated in the test, which is administered every four years.

In math, American fourth graders came in at 11th place of the 36 countries while eighth graders scored ninth out of 48. Hong Kong and Taiwan ranked first for fourth grade and eighth grade, respectively. In science, Singapore topped the list for both fourth grade and eighth grade, with U.S. science students taking eighth place and 11th place.

While the American math scores have improved slightly, the science scores have dropped. In 2003, U.S. fourth graders were in sixth place in the world and eighth graders were in ninth place. Only 6 percent of U.S. eighth-grade students reached the TIMSS "advanced" level in math, compared to 45 percent of students in Chinese Taipei, 40 percent in Korea, 40 percent in Singapore, 31 percent in Hong Kong, 26 percent in Japan and 10 percent in Hungary.

Regarding student fitness, the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the percentage of overweight or obese 6- to 11-year-olds has tripled since 1980, with more than 125 million children at unhealthy levels.

Leaping backward

Ironically, one of the solutions proposed for raising test scores, the federal No Child Left Behind program, encourages schools to focus more of the school day on the core academic subjects while reducing class time in peripheral subjects, like art, music, and physical education. In fact, only 6 percent of American high schools offer a daily gym class. Yet a 2002 Virginia Tech study showed no relationship between reduced class time in those subjects and higher overall standardized tests.

In his latest book, "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" (2008, Little, Brown), John Ratey, a Harvard clinical associate professor of psychiatry, argues for more physical fitness for students as a cure for not only their obesity but also their academic performance.

"I cannot underestimate how important regular exercise is in improving the function and performance of the brain." Ratey writes. "Exercise stimulates our gray matter to produce Miracle-Gro for the brain." That "Miracle-Gro" is a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF. When we exercise, our working muscles send chemicals into our bloodstream, including a protein known as IGF-1.

Once in the brain, IGF-1 orders the production of more BDNF. The additional BDNF helps new neurons and their connections grow. In addition, levels of other neurotransmitters are increased after a strenuous exercise session.

"Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine — all of these are elevated after exercise," says Ratey. "So having a workout will help focus, calming down, and impulsivity — it's like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin."

Evidence mounts

Research showing a link between fitness and academics is growing.

The California Department of Education (CDE) looked for a correlation between fitness scores and test scores. They found that kids who were deemed fit (by a standard test of aerobic capacity, BMI, abdominal strength, trunk strength, upper body strength and overall flexibility) scored twice as well on academic tests as those that were unfit. In the second year of the study, socio-economic status was taken into account, to possibly eliminate that variable as an explanation. As expected, those in the upper-income brackets scored better overall on the academic tests, but within the lower-income set of students, the same results were observed — kids who were more fit performed better academically.

Charles Hillman, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois, was able to duplicate these findings with 259 third and fifth-grade Illinois students. His team also noticed that two of the tests, BMI and aerobic capacity, were significantly more influential to higher academic scores than the other four fitness factors. Digging deeper, he isolated two groups of 20 students, one fit and the other unfit. They were given cognitive tests of attention, working memory and processing speed while their brain's electrical activity was being measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG) test.

The fit kids' brains showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex, known for its executive function and control over other brain processes.

So, just send the kids on a fast jog and they will ace all of their tests? Not quite.

“The exercise itself doesn't make you smarter, but it puts the brain of the learners in the optimal position for them to learn,” Ratey said. “There's no way to say for sure that improves learning capacity for kids, but it certainly seems to correlate to that."


Monday, March 2, 2009

Five Quick and Easy Weight Loss Steps

Five Quick and Easy Weight Loss Steps
Childhood Obesity
By Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

We have been hearing about the obesity epidemic for some time now. Unfortunately, even with all of the attention the topic is getting, a report from The Trust for America's Heath shows that obesity rates are rising even higher.

This shouldn't be too surprising, after all, for most people:

  • it is easy and fun to overeat
  • unhealthy foods and snacks taste good
  • it usually isn't much fun to exercise

These are things that you must change, whether or not your kids are already overweight, unless you want them to become overweight adults. You don't have to make drastic, all at once diet and lifestyle changes though, which most people can't keep up with. On the other hand, if you don't do anything today, there is a good chance that nothing is going to change and your overweight kids will continue to become more overweight.

So start with small changes, which is usually okay as long as you stick with them and continue to steadily build to a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

These five quick and easy weight loss steps are things that you can do right now to lead your kids, and your family, to a healthier way of living.

1) Cut back on some calories.
In general, one pound of body weight is equal to 3500 calories. So if you get an extra 150 calories a day, you will gain about an extra pound in just three weeks! That's just a few cookies a day or maybe an extra dinner roll and helps illustrate how little things can lead to a weight problem.

Although you likely don't need to put your child on a strict diet (or at least you shouldn't without the supervision of your Pediatrician and/or a registered dietician), it should be very easy to trim just 100 or 200 extra calories from your older child's diet.

2) Eat less fast food.
Although most fast food restaurants now offer healthy menu choices, most kids opt for high fat and high calorie fast food meals. Although you could search for healthier fast food, like a baked potato, salad, or low fat sandwich, etc., you are usually better off providing your kids with a healthier meal at home.

3) Drink fewer calories.
With fruit drinks, fruit juice, soda, and sport's drinks, most kids drink way too many calories. Often, these drinks can be the difference between kids being overweight or at a healthy weight and getting rid of them is a very easy way to eliminate extra calories from your child's diet.

Although it is usually considered okay to allow children between the ages of 1 and 6 years to have 4 to 6 ounces and older children to have 8 to 12 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice each day, if they are already overweight, even that may be too much. Better alternatives might be low fat milk (as long as they are over two years old) and water, and even limiting sport's drinks to when your child is involved in vigorous physical activity.

Diet drinks can play a role here too, although many parents worry about offering them to children. In this case, you have to consider the unproven risks of artificial sweeteners with the known health problems that are associated with being overweight.

4) Get more active.
Kids don't usually find traditional exercise fun. For them, it is more important to simply get them active doing things that they do enjoy. This might include a new team sport, such as baseball or volleyball, an individual sport if they don't like the idea of being a part of a large team, or just unorganized play in the neighborhood riding a bike, skateboarding, or just playing outside.

5) Shop smarter.
Although you may not have complete control over everything your kids eat once they leave home, what you buy at the grocery store can help you control what they do eat at home. That doesn't mean that they will eat all of their veggies just because you buy them, but they can't drink soda or eat high fat potato chips if you don't buy them.

First Steps
Remember that the goal here is to start small so that you actually get started. Just choose one or two items from each step every few days or each week and then watch how quickly it adds up and you see results.

Here are some examples of small things that you might change to lead your older child to a healthier lifestyle.

Week 1 Steps

Step 1: Cut back on some calories.

Switch to low fat milk (remember that this is only if your child is already two years old).

Step 2: Eat less fast food.
Don't "super-size" fast food meals.

Step 3: Drink fewer calories.
Stop drinking soda.

Step 4: Get more active.
Take PE at school.

Step 5: Shop smarter.
Only buy whole wheat bread.

Week 2 Steps

Step 1: Cut back on some calories.
Substitute a fruit for a less healthy snack, like cookies or a bag of chips, twice a week.

Step 2: Eat less fast food.
Eat fast food (that includes delivery to the house) at least one less time each month.

Step 3: Drink fewer calories.
Stop drinking fruit drinks.

Step 4: Get more active.
Look for a sport that you might enjoy, whether it is football, volleyball, gymnastics, karate, golf, swimming or anything else that you can do as a part of a team or class, which can help to encourage you to keep at it.

Step 5: Shop smarter.
Buy single serving size snacks, which help to discourage overeating.

Week 3 Steps

Step 1: Cut back on some calories.
Don't eat in front of the TV, since you are more likely to overeat if you aren't eating at the kitchen table.

Step 2: Eat less fast food.
Learn how to choose healthy meals when you do eat at fast food restaurants.

Step 3: Drink fewer calories.
Drink plain milk instead of adding chocolate flavoring to it.

Step 4: Get more active.
Take your dog for a walk (or volunteer to take a neighbor's dog for a walk) at least twice a week.

Step 5: Shop smarter.
Learn to read food labels so that you can choose healthier foods, which in general means foods that are low in calories, fat, and added sugars, and high in fiber.

What are you going to do next week?

Week 4 Steps

Step 1: Cut back on some calories.

Step 2: Eat less fast food.

Step 3: Drink fewer calories.

Step 4: Get more active.

Step 5: Shop smarter.


Exercise and the mind-body connection

Published: March 1, 2009
Richmond Times Dispatch

We all know that exercise can help you lose weight and reduce certain health risks. But new research reveals that getting a good sweat going can be helpful in other ways as well. Among the benefits, aerobic exercise can eliminate depression, reduce the chance of getting dementia and make you smarter.

That's right. It can make people of all ages - from preschool to retirement - perform better intellectually.

Dr. John J. Ratey, a Harvard Medical School associate professor and psychiatrist, recently released a book dedicated entirely to the connection between exercise and the brain. He says most people realize that working out makes you feel good.

"But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important - and fascinating - than what it does for the body," Ratey says in his introduction to "Spark - The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain."

Ratey will be in Richmond this month to talk about his book, which is subtitled, "Supercharge Your Mental Circuits to Beat Stress, Sharpen Your Thinking, Lift Your Mood, Boost Your Memory and Much More."

Another recent conference in Richmond touched on some of the same subjects. "Save Our Kids: The Obesity Crisis Conference," held Feb. 18, focused on the need for daily physical activity for school-age children as a way to fight the growing percentage of overweight children in this country. Richmond SportsBackers put together this second-annual conference.

Dr. Minot Cleveland, a medical doctor and chairman of Physical Education for All Kids (PEAK) in Oregon, began his talk at the obesity conference by referring to what the Greeks knew long ago.

"Physical activity is good for the body, mind and spirit of a human being," he said.

Cleveland pointed to the words of Plato: "The body is the source of all energy and initiative." Then, he quoted Aristotle: "Life is movement."

Indeed, these ancient philosophers had an opinion on this subject, and their words are ringing clear today as Americans grasp for ways to fight rising obesity and health-care costs.

Ratey begins his "Spark" book with a similar quote from Plato: "In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection."

In today's remote-controlled world, we tend to forget the importance of movement, Ratey contends.

"Our culture treats the mind and body as if they are separate entities, and I want to reconnect the two," Ratey writes in his book.

And he does. Quite eloquently.

In case study after case study, Ratey shows how exercise changes things. It can improve test scores, reduce behavioral problems and ease attention difficulties for students. It can lower stress levels for working adults and boost memory for retirees.

It also lessens the need for depression medication and helps individuals overcome addictions. For women, it can be a crucial component to smoothing out hormonal highs and lows.

In Ratey's view, there's no end to the amount of positive influence that exercise can have on a person. He concludes his book by urging readers to "grab your gym bag instead of the remote, or spend time on the field rather than on the sidelines."

Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair. Contact her at flair@timesdispatch.com.