By Peg L. Smith, CEO, American Camp Association
Maybe it starts with Thanksgiving — the turkey, the stuffing, mashed potatoes swimming in gravy, Aunt Gertie's Jell-O® Surprise, and pumpkin pie buried in whipped cream. Then the holiday steam train is rolling, and every time you turn around there are get-togethers complete with a smorgasbord of calorie-laden, but oh-so-tasty, treats. And if it ended with ringing in the New Year, and everyone actually stuck to their resolutions to drop a few pounds and get some exercise on a regular basis, everything would be fine. But that isn't reality, and holidays aside, we cram so much into our typical day — getting the kids where they need to be, braving the traffic to and from the office, stopping by the store, the dry cleaner, the gas station — by the end of the day we feel exhausted. That must mean we're being active, right?
Not necessarily. We may be going a million miles an hour, but thanks to our "car culture" we're not getting much exercise doing it. And our kids are right there in the backseat learning from us. Our sedentary lifestyle becomes one, giant, family-shared, bad habit that can lead to weight gain and other serious health issues. Statistics show that nearly half of all young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-one are not vigorously active, and the percentage of children ages six to eleven who are considered overweight has risen 300 percent in the last twenty-five years. Project those statistics another twenty-five years into the future and we're talking about our grown children facing severe hypertension, soaring cholesterol, diabetes, and drastically shortened life spans. Fortunately, this dire prediction is only one possible outcome. Steps you take today with your children can and will create a much sunnier future for your entire family.
Sending your children to camp is a great way to ensure they get some much needed exercise in a fun environment that won't leave them feeling like they're doing penance for one too many cheese doodles. And if weight is already a concern, there are camp programs available that are designed to work on the attitudes and habits behind the issue — changing it from
the inside out.
"It takes about twenty-one to twenty-eight days to break a habit, put in place a new habit, and then work toward your goal," said Jean Huelsing, RN and founder of Camp Jump Start. "It is our mission to help individuals and families choose healthy lifestyles that will improve their quantity as well as quality of their life through experiential learning. We assist not only the camper but the family to develop a healthy lifestyle action plan."
Flip Shulman, director of the all-girl Camp Pennbrook, agrees it's about focusing on making changes kids can continue when they leave camp. "Everything we do at camp is geared for what to do when you come home," he said. "We even take the girls to restaurants several times during the summer so that they can see how to adapt to any real-life situation. "The program also focuses on building self-esteem," said Shulman, because while exercise and poor food habits are a large part of the problem, emotional health plays a role, too.
Huelsing said it's also important to understand that "overweight and obese children do not think like adults. Adult life experience says that if we go on some fad diet and in a week lose two pounds, we are heading in the right direction. A child only lives for today. That is why they get into trouble, because they do not see the long-term consequences of their choices and actions."
Whether weight loss is the ultimate goal or not, American Camp Association-Accredited® camps are committed to infusing children's lives with exercise, clean living, and activities that build their sense of self-worth, all factors that can have a positive impact on establishing healthy habits back at home. The bottom line (not to mention the waistline) is active children become active adults. Determining today to break your family out of a sedentary lifestyle could mean better health for generations to come.
Headline: The Family that Exercises Together…
The colder months of the year can make even the most health-conscious family leery of working out, but you don't have to be outside to walk or work up a sweat. Never mind the health club, try these ideas for fun exercise as a family provided by Jean Huelsing, founder of Camp Jump Start:
- Learn and exercise at the same time. Go to a museum and soak up some culture while you're burning calories.
- Shopaholic? Nothing says you can't walk briskly around the mall. Window-shop as you walk and then return for more leisurely shopping when you've completed at least thirty minutes of exercise.
- Too cold to even set foot outside the house? Take turns choosing workout videos and turn your TV room into a family workout center.
Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association.