Move it and lose it! Exercise is important for optimal health as well as weight control. Muscles are designed to move. We were meant to move every day. Moving on a regular basis keeps our muscles, including those of our heart and GI tract, healthy. Our circulatory system pumps better and our digestive tract moves easier when we are moving our bodies. Flabby muscles contribute to weakness and disease.

Once upon a time our survival was dependent on moving. We had to hunt and gather and run from predators. Then farming or working the land required dawn to dusk labor. Survival was dependent on finding or producing as many calories as were expended in the work.

In this electronic age, we merely have to lift our hand to push a button or key pad to have all our needs met. This ready access to fast food and our lack of movement, has created diseases of excess: obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, mood disorders, constipation and diverticulitis. Our children are affected by these diseases at ever younger ages.

The recommendation to combat this, is to get at least one hour of physical activity a day for old and young alike. Whether the hour is all at once or broken up over the course of the day, the benefit is much the same. A 20-minute bike ride to school, followed later in the day by a 15-minute dance break and then a 25-minute post-dinner family walk could easily fit into most children's daily routine.

A combination of aerobic activity, stretching and strengthening gives our muscles their best workout. Some weight bearing every day helps prevent osteoporosis. Recent studies show dancing improves mood and memory. Research is showing that those engaged in regular outdoor activities have better physical and emotional well being.

Below are tips to keep your child moving. Start from infancy. Adjust and maintain the routines throughout the growing years.

1. Be a good example: Let your kids see you exercise regularly. Lead other parents in activity while waiting for kids.

2. Exercise as a family: hike, walk, swim, ski, snow shoe, dance, bike, skate- try it all.

3. Mix it up: Change with the seasons, change by the week, and change on a whim. Cross training causes less repetitive injuries, works different muscle groups and keeps things more interesting.

4. Sports: Team sports like soccer, basketball, hockey, baseball and track are great. But not all kids gravitate toward them. Look into karate, gymnastics or fencing.

5. Get outside: Put on layers and just get out there! There is evidence that the benefits of outdoor activity to our physical and emotional health outweigh indoor activity of the same duration.

6. Always have a backup plan for bad weather: dancing, Wii competition, yoga, indoor basketball, skating in the basement.

7. Have fun: Laugh, tell jokes, sing songs, rap, or point out wacky observations during your activity. Make it memorable.

Familiarize yourself with community resources. Weeks and Moose Brook State Parks, the Dells and Kilburn Crags and St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest is a local gem for outdoor activities. Area recreation centers offer sporting activities, as well as exercise classes. Contact the AMC for organized hikes, kayaks, skis and more. Get maps of local bike routes and hikes at your local bike shop or book store. Visit community pools. Sign up for fun runs and dance-athons. Work with your school to increase programs or combine resources with neighboring schools.

Being physically active can build community as well as strength and endurance. Combining social outings with movement sets the stage for a healthy family. For your physical and emotional wellness, get out and move!

Provided by: Dr. Traci Wagner, Pediatrician, Littleton Regional Healthcare, North Country Pediatrics, 580 St. Johnsbury Rd., Littleton, NH 03561, 603-444-2803.

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