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Old-fashioned fitness

Are treadmills and more video games really what we want for our children? What’s wrong with turning off the TVs, computers and video games?

Anne Jarvis, Special to The Windsor Star

Published: Saturday, March 29, 2008

I have a friend whose son would rather play video games than play hockey with his dad.

I know kids as young as six, even preschoolers, with TVs in their bedrooms. My daughter knows three kids who got televisions for Christmas. A lot of kids she knows have three or four video game systems.

Kids between the ages of 10 and 16 spend an average of six hours a day in front of a TV, computer or video screen. This sedentary lifestyle is contributing to skyrocketing childhood obesity, with one in four kids ages two to 17 overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes, normally seen in middle-age adults, is being diagnosed in children. We are raising the first generation that could have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Kids’ gyms and fitness equipment — yes, miniature treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines painted bright, primary colors — and even exercise DVDs are the latest in the effort to get kids active.

At Kid Fit Inc., a new kids’ gym in South Windsor (next to Curves and two doors down from Weight Watchers), there are 12 stationary bikes linked to Sony PlayStations so kids can exercise and play video games at the same time. There are also 12 of the popular interactive video games Nintendo Wii and Dance Dance Revolution, four pint-size weight-lifting machines and conditioning classes as well as a jungle gym, rock climbing wall and small court with a basketball net.

Gymkids, a U.K. company specializing in fitness equipment for kids ages three to 11, advertises a non-motorized “nursery treadmill” with a screen that shows time elapsed, distance travelled and energy burned. Its “infant bike” is “just like the adult version,” with a dial to adjust the tension.

The “infant rower” means kids can “copy what mum and dad do down at the gym.” The American company Motionkids promotes “exergaming,” interactive video games like Dance Dance Revolution that combine entertainment and physical activity. Its LCD TV is a “must-have for all serious fitness and gaming areas,” it website states.

Kids’ fitness is now a business opportunity. It’s a “vast marketplace where the potential has now become even greater,” says an Internet ad for U.S.-based My Gym Children’s Fitness Centres.

“As far-fetched as it sounds,” says the Motionkids website, video games can motivate kids to exercise. Studies have found that exergaming can help people stay fit and manage their weight. West Virginia even plans to put Dance Dance Revolution in all its public schools.

But are treadmills and more video games really what we want for our children? What’s wrong with turning off the TVs, computers and video games?

What’s wrong with sending our kids outside to play, making them walk to school and their friends’ houses?

We need to redesign our neighborhoods so we don’t have to drive everywhere.

In B.C., schools are opening their gyms, unlocking their equipment and simply letting neighborhood kids play.

“They come out all sweaty, but I don’t think for a minute any of them thought they were exercising,” says former Olympic rower and mother of two, Silken Laumann, whose campaign encouraging children to exercise through play prompted the initiative.

Are treadmills and more video games really what we want for our children? What’s wrong with turning off the TVs, computers and video games?

We need to stop being so overprotective and let our kids go more. At my kids’ school the students aren’t allowed to run on the pavement. But don’t their skinned knees teach them about life’s risks and the inevitable adversities we all face?

When we send our kids out to play, they get more than exercise and fresh air. The games they make up spark their imagination, teach them to be independent, work together and resolve problems. Neighborhoods connect.

I watched three boys play shinny on the frozen pond at Malden Park on a recent Saturday afternoon. They took turns shoveling the snow off and playing goalie. One peeled down to a short-sleeve T-shirt. The sky was clear and blue. The sun shone on the silvery white ice. In the backdrop were tall trees of the adjacent woods. Can you get that from of an interactive video game? Can you feel the wind in your face on a stationary bike?

Laumann wrote in a letter to the Victoria Times Colonist last month, “I want my kids to grow up running, leaping, digging, climbing, pink-cheeked and vital, reluctantly dragging themselves home when the street lights come on.”

That’s how all children should grow up.

E-mail: AnneJarvis@sympatico.ca



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