It's not easy for some children to get the daily exercise they need, but experts agree it's the key to improving their health, as well as the state statistics that show too many Oklahoma children are overweight and obese.
In Oklahoma, about 17 percent of youth are obese and an additional 16 percent are overweight, according to www.ok.gov.
“My goal is to teach kids to live a healthier lifestyle,” said Meg Jones, owner of Kid's Maniac Fitness, 2418 N Moore Ave., in Moore.
Three times per week, her kids' fitness groups meet for workouts. She says kids need about a minimum of an hour of physical exercise per day. Some of the kids in her classes don't need to lose weight, but many struggle with being overweight.
“The kids, they realize they are bigger than the other kids and recognize that they may need to lose a few pounds,” Jones said.
Diet and exercise are the two most powerful tools parents have in their arsenal in the war against obesity, Jones said. Kids learn by example, but with 67 percent of Oklahoma adults overweight or obese, many kids lack a positive role model for healthful living.
The state attributes the alarming rates of obesity to several factors: As of January 2012, 63 percent of students didn't attend any physical education classes at school and about a third of Oklahoma students spent three or more hours watching TV and playing on computers every day. Nutrition in schools and at home also contributes to the state's health grades.
Oklahoma has several strategies in the works to help improve the physical activity levels of Oklahomans. The Oklahoma Safe Routes to School program will encourage kids to walk and bike to school by creating safe paths — Bike to School day is May 8 — and several school districts are implementing a pilot program combining physical activity and nutrition curriculum.
But the responsibility for keeping kids fit and healthy ultimately falls upon parents.
Prying kids from their video games and getting them up and moving can be a real challenge, especially for kids used to being a couch potato, said Lauren Sonder, owner of Sonder Music, Dance & Art, 225 E Gray St., in Norman.
The key to getting kids engaged in physical activities is to keep the activities fun, experts agree.
“Think outside the box when it comes to keeping your kids active,” Sonder said. “Keep it fun and I think it's more likely it will be something they'll stick with it if they enjoy it.”
At Sonder's studio, she offers some usual and unusual dance classes for kids: belly dancing for little girls — with age-appropriate movements, Sonder said — traditional forms of Irish dancing, including competitive step dancing and Ceili dancing, or Irish folk dancing.
Several metro yoga studios offer classes geared toward even the youngest yogi, and kid's Zumba classes are cropping up around town.
“One of the great things about movement is that it is a stress reliever,” Sonder said. That's true for kids and adults, so engaging your child in some outdoor play can be great for your stress levels and your child's. At Jones' studio, she often tells her students that if they work hard, they'll be rewarded with a game of “burpee dodge ball.” When the kids get hit by the dodge ball, they have to do three burpees — from a standing position, drop into a squat with hands on the ground, extend your feet into a plank position, then jump up with arms up.
At a glance
Low-cost or free activities
For some families, the cost of dance classes and group sports can be prohibitive. Here are some suggestions for free and low-cost ways to engage your child in physical activity.
• Walk your dog while your child rides along on his or her bike.
• Fly a kite — put Oklahoma's strong winds to good use.
• Toss a Frisbee or play Frisbee golf.
• Take a nature hike at a park.
• Skating is a great workout and fun whether on a skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates or ice skates.
• Play tag and hopscotch.
• Jump rope — go double-Dutch if you're really coordinated.
• Have a hula hoop contest, and see who can keep the hoop up the longest.
• Learn to juggle.
• Play leap frog.
• Visit the zoo, an amusement park or a museum.
• Have a water balloon fight or run through the sprinklers.
• Sign up for a charity walk-
• Learn to twirl a baton.
• Take a class in martial arts or self-defense and learn to defend yourself.