Ask the Expert: Encouraging Exercise in Central Texas Children

Ask the Expert

These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.

Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.

At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions. We have a recurring feature called Ask the Expert, brought to you by Baylor Scott & White Health, that will take on a wide range of subjects, from potty training to car seats to dealing with kids and technology to anything in between.

Got a question? Post it below, on our Facebook page or email us and we’ll try to get it answered!

Exercise is beneficial for everybody, but for our Central Texas kids (and kids everywhere), it pays double: increasing vitality today while building the foundation for a healthy tomorrow.  Shimona Thakrar, DO, MPH, a pediatric hospitalist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock, explains that active youngsters are stronger and leaner, and most importantly as we head back to school this month, physical activity helps them perform better in school. Exercising regularly gives kids extra energy and helps them feel better about themselves, and gives them a head start on lifestyle habits that will protect against heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Some alarming statistics show that about one in six American children is considered obese, and pediatric obesity is certainly a problem here in Texas. The National Survey of Children’s Health says 32.2 percent of Texas children are overweight or obese, which is a number that outweighs the national average.

Steve Jobs may not have let his children use iPads, but a recent study indicates that 40 percent of kids are using them and other electronic devices before they can talk! Our culture has changed a lot.

Turn off the Computer!

Childhood obesity and an inactive lifestyle go hand in hand. Twenty years ago, children rode bikes and spent every hour of sunlight outside running and playing games. Today, sedentary activities such as video games and computers are the hottest items on the market. To help reduce the risk of weight problems, now and in the future, children should incorporate moderate activity into each day — activities such as: brisk walking, dancing, gardening, hiking, in-line skating, jumping rope, skateboarding, washing the car and/or swimming.

Dr. Thakrar says lots of physical activity on a regular basis — at least a half hour three or four times a week — is a good goal for children.

“I think parents should help their children identify activities together that are fun and rewarding,” Dr. Thakrar said. “For example, baseball, walking, swimming, soccer, or football, or jumping rope. Anything is ok if it’s enjoyable and done safely.”

But she warns that preaching or pushing kids into activities is likely to backfire and affect them negatively later in life, because kids who learn that exercise is a chore or burden can become inactive adults.

One misconception about exercise is that it has to be organized to be beneficial. Not true!

“Exercise should be a way of life and there are many family-friendly activities and events here in Austin,” Dr. Thakrar said. “Start early, encourage your youngster to take the active option in daily life: Walk instead of ride, or take the stairs rather than the elevator.”

Short bursts of activity add up.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and with exercise it can also be the healthiest.

“Kids learn by example, so I encourage parents to get involved and participate with their child’s activity,” Dr. Thakrar said. “Children with involved parents are three times more active than children with inactive parents.  Foster fitness together by turning long walks, front yard football games, bicycle rides and active vacations into family traditions.”Advertisement

Stay Hydrated!

“Remember with this sweltering summer heat in Austin to be extremely safe and stay hydrated,” Dr. Thakrar said. “Sometimes kids cannot express that they’re dehydrated or they don’t sweat as much as adults. If you’re outside, remember to stay hydrated with plenty of water or a light electrolyte drink with no sugar.”

Fun Family Fitness

·       Fit exercise into all areas of life (take stairs instead of escalators)

·       Walk the dog

·       Buy toys that promote physical activity (balls, active games, sports equipment)

·       Use household chores as exercise (yard work, washing the car, cleaning house)

·       Encourage children to look for active jobs (bicycle messenger, paper carrier, lawn service)

·       Find fun, active ways to celebrate special occasions (take a hike and a picnic for a birthday party)

·       Add exercise to weekend plans (fly a kite, swim, walk on Lady Bird Lake)

·       Plan a special physical activity event each week for the whole family (bicycle rides)

·       Join activity programs at school (intramural sports, athletic teams)

Exercise Safety This School Year

“Active children are more prone to accidents,” Dr. Thakrar said. “But remember, minor mishaps such as bruises and sprains are a fact of life for on-the-go youngsters, but simple precautions will minimize the risk of serious injury.”

Dr. Thakrar suggests:

·       Make sure the activities are right for your child’s age, size, and physical development. Contact sports can pose dangers for smaller kids. When in doubt, check with your pediatrician.

·       Keep team spirit healthy this school year. Coaches and parents with a “winning-is-everything” attitude encourage children to push too hard and play when injured. Get to know your child’s team attitude.

·       Use the proper protective equipment for each sport or activity, including helmets for bikers.

Seek medical advice if your child is limping after exercise, or if muscle soreness lasts throughout the day or night.  A child sidelined by an injury shouldn’t get back into action until he or she is pain-free and has been cleared by their pediatrician.

There is no better investment in your child’s future health than promoting safe, regular exercise.

*This information is intended for general knowledge and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.

Shimona Thakrar, DO, MPH, FAAP, is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock. For more information, call 512-509-0200 or visit us at

Read more expert medical tips and insights on Baylor Scott & White Health’s Scrubbing In, where hands-on health care discussions take place every day.

Catherine Prystup
About Catherine Prystup 2157 Articles
Catherine Prystup founded out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.

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