Healthy Habits: Empowering young athletes
By Greg Bach
As childhood obesity continues to be a national epidemic, it’s become more important than ever to help youth develop a greater understanding and interest in seizing control of their health, says a leading expert.
“Knowledge is power,” says Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, author of The Ultimate Kids’ Guide to Being Super Healthy. “We need to give kids a little bit more ownership of their health and give them a sense of control, a sense of understanding, and a sense of empowerment.”
Shapiro is Director of Pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and professor of Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
An internationally recognized children’s physician and health advocate, Shapiro’s book hits on a bunch of all-important topics and provides clear and concrete information for both kids – and parents, too.
“The reading level is second grade and up, but it’s written for parents as well to provide them with some real good science about nutrition, exercise, screen time, sleep, medicine, and all of the things we deal with that affect kids,” she says. “There’s a lot of information that I think parents may be a little bit fuzzy on as well, so it gives them some tools to learn about how to navigate this stuff with their children.”
Check out what Shapiro shared on these important topics:
Dissecting diets: “There’s a lot of pressure on parents to have a perfect diet for their children and a perfect diet for themselves and there’s no such thing,” she says. “I think if we kind of let up a little bit on that and enjoy what we eat, and while it’s a really boring thing to say, but just everything in moderation. To cut things out extremely and to have these extreme diets, especially for children, is very unhealthy and very dangerous going forward.”
Food focus: “If kids can understand what’s in different foods, how those foods work inside their body, and how it makes them feel during the day, they may have a better time of making their own good choices,” she says.
Encourage inquisitiveness: “Kids can learn a lot more than what we give them credit,” says the mom of two. “I think it’s very good to encourage kids to ask questions.”
Confronting anxiety: “Anxiety is prevalent, and it’s gotten worse over the last year or two,” Shapiro says. “It’s one thing to be able to deal with anxiety when it’s happening and it’s another thing to try and prevent it and have techniques that you can do on a regular basis to minimize it. Kids as young as pre-school can learn how to do relaxation techniques. I think if you do it on a regular basis, when things come up that trigger anxiety if kids have these tools already it will be a lot easier to manage. If it’s a big game or a tryout, of course they are going to be anxious and that’s a good sign because it means that they care about it. If they have those techniques already it will make it a lot more manageable when those issues come up.”
Significance of Sleep: “One of the most important things for kids to do well in school and do well in sports is sleep,” Shapiro says. “This is a real battle from Day One. As kids get older they don’t want to go to sleep, they don’t like their bedtimes, and they really feel that sleep is a waste of time and they’re missing out on all the amazing things that older people are doing. But sleep is so critical, and they need a lot more sleep than they are getting because it is such a key aspect for so many important things during their day. Nine hours is the bare bones minimum for elementary school kids and middle school students should be aiming for eight to nine hours.”
Shutting down screens an hour before bedtime: “Screens have really taken over our lives and certainly in the last year and a half or two because of the pandemic we’ve looked to screens as a connection to the outside world,” Shapiro says. “Now that people are getting back outside and getting back to regular activity, we need to minimize our screen times. Screens at the end of the day can have a lot of negative impact because it can affect the quality of sleep. It’s not just the light of the screen but the way things are coming at you so rapidly that can affect the ability to fall asleep and can affect the ability to stay asleep.”
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