Making Kids into Champions

In previous posts, I have talked about getting kids out into nature and ways to help our kids become primal, remove screen time and develop into awesome humans. You can read that here, Helping kids behave better, concentrate harder and become Primal, and helping children develop a love of sport, movement and fitness. Today’s post continues the Primal Kids theme exploring the developmental benefits of physically active kids.

Children, even newborns, should be given every opportunity to move without physical restriction. Training to become an athlete starts in infancy and continues throughout life as children become involved with a variety of activities. Unfortunately this process of development most of the time does not go how nature intended. With the prevalence of screens, Ipads, phones, computer games, and on demand TV we are intentionally, or maybe unintentionally, discouraging children from becoming great athletes. This is especially detrimental when paired with the abundance of junk food available, not just the takeaway variety, but also any processed food containing sugar, grains or vegetable oils.

Instead we should be making room for play and roaming, letting children crawl, run, climb and jump to their heart’s content. (Making sure that it’s safe, of course!) According to Dr Phil Maffetone, a highly respected doctor, coach of endurance athletes and primal guru, a wide variety of physical movements are vital to the neuromuscular progress and necessities for the brain, with early physical activity ultimately making the child better at math, science, music, coordination and having better social skills.

While great health and fitness during childhood may lead to great athletic performance later in life, a key reason for a child’s fitness being so important, according to Maffetone in his 2015 book, the Endurance Handbook, is because “fitness is widely regarded as a powerful marker of current and future cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and mental health”.  What this means is, the more fitness and all round play a child engages in early in their life, the better their health, muscle and bone development, and social skills will be.

There is obviously a difference between how adults train and how children train. Children need a wide range of activities and movements. As they grow through the first decade of their life, natural development and interest will lead to participation in a variety of sports and activities. I think this is healthy for their development in fitness and as athletes. Having children try a wide variety of activities such as swimming, riding bikes, gymnastics, coordinated ball sports, running, climbing and playing on the various apparatus at playgrounds will help develop a great, functional athlete. There is always time for a child to learn and take up specific sports once they have a good grasp of co-ordination, movement through various planes and balance. All sports need these fundamentals and getting kids to stick to a specific sport or sports may be making them too one dimensional.

According to Dr. Maffetone there are two important factors when it comes to children transitioning into good adolescent athletes. These are:

  • Cross Training: From birth until about 20 years of age the body undergoes dramatic changes. Physical activity plays a huge part in this development. The more variety of movement the better the development. This he attributes to muscle and bone growth, hormone balance, immune function and brain maturation. At certain ages selected sports activities may be of more interest, such as riding bikes, swimming, running, soccer. But variety and cross training continues to be important.
  • Active Fun:  This one is pretty simple – the process of having fun whilst being active. Encouraging play, climbing, and movement. This may be the most important guideline for kids!

While I think team sports have their place for children, I don’t think we as parents need to be pushing them so hard to be great athletes at an early age. With natural love of movement, coordination and balance, kids will inevitably gravitate to sports they like. Some children develop at faster rates than others so we really can’t predict who will ultimately be a great athlete from how they are at 4, 6, 8, 10 maybe even 12 years of age. Pushing kids into training and sports may seem helpful but if the child is not on board this could be more of a hindrance and they may develop a dislike of activity.

Like Dr Maffetone says, having active fun may be the most important guideline for the development of the athletic child!

Reducing Childhood Obesity

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We know the answer we just aren’t applying it!

Movement is the answer. This is a little carryover from my recent blog about movement and how that can help create a resilient, injury free all rounder who is ready of any thing that life throws at them be it in sports, fitness, work or home life for you kids.

Get kids standing to reduce Childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity is and is going to continue to be a massive problem for us as a society. According to the Australian Government via the Australian Institute of Health and welfare, 1 in 4 Australian children aged between 2-17 were overweight or obese in 2014-15.

We know NOW the massive problem we have with childhood obesity. They are eating the wrong foods-too many processed foods with high amounts of sugar, grains and industrial oils. They aren’t moving or exercising enough and spend too much time on technologies like ipads, phones and too much screen time. Stand up desks in schools will help kids keep in constant motion by standing, moving and changing feet position. Being a former high school teacher, I recognise that kids cannot learn in the old sit still and shut up model we have been running for decades. Times have changed, get kids standing up at their desks. Kids with ADD cannot actually learn whilst concreted to a sitting desk. They need to move to keep their brain active, they think better and behave better this way. Stand up desks allow kids to interact and develop social skills. They are actually a better way for people and kids to write, it improves neatness and handwriting skills. Studies have shown that kids sit for about 4 and half hours a day. Think about it, we sit to eat breakfast, sit in the car or bus on the way to school, sit all day in the classroom, come home, sit to eat dinner, sit to watch television, ipad or computer. We know the answer- get kids standing up and moving to help create fit, all-rounder that are resilient and less likely to get injured. Obese kids with stand up desks at school burn 25-35% more calories per day! Kids are more engaged in a standing classroom and can interact better, increasing social skills and group work. In the very least it creates a discussion around movement being the norm and according to Stand Up Kids, a great US based website highlighting the benefits of movement in the early years, it creates a “movement rich environment and as one researcher put it, physical activity is cognitive candy”. In other words it helps their brain function as well as their physical and motor skills. Other benefits to stand up desks in classrooms include:

  • Reduces disease, orthopedic dysfunction and impedes children’s ability to learn.
  • Obese kids burn up to 35% more calories per day.
  • Classroom management is easier for teachers
  • If kids are given the opportunity to move through the day they will take it.
  • When students move more, their education improves.
  • Kids are happier when they are not restricted in a chair.
  • Behaviour improves with active learning and kids have more creativity.
  • Students can shift their bodies and change position when they need to stay focused.
  • Standing prevents the body’s tissue adaptation to static positions-short hip flexors and hamstrings, rounded shoulders and back positions), it doesn’t erode the child’s physiology like sitting does.
  • Standing maintains the integrity of the complex motor skills required for optimal physical function.
  • Reducing sedentary time reduces cell aging which means kids will live longer and be healthier.

According to the Stand Up kids website moving more is the key to better cognition and learning. This next part comes straight form their website, I couldn’t say it better myself…

“Sitting still has been our dominant model for learning in schools. For decades, the educational and scientific communities seemed to believe that thinking was thinking and movement was movement, and each was as separate as could be. We were wrong.

Research definitively shows that movement and learning are connected –

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to move.

Students who are engaged in daily physical education programs consistently show not just superior motor fitness, but better academic performance and a better attitude toward school than their students who do not participate in daily P.E.

MOVEMENT IS KEY

In September 2014, the journal Paediatrics published research that found kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings “demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.”

Physical activity is clearly a high, high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those attentive or hyperactive, maximizing the utility of time spent in class. The improvements in this case came in executive control, which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).

Another study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD.

There are many reasons kids aren’t moving enough any more:

  1. THE LOSS OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION

PE has been cut or dramatically decreased in most American schools. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Today, however, only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools provide daily physical education.

In Los Angeles, physical education class sizes rose to 80 students in some cases, making effective teaching nearly impossible. Only 31 percent of California students passed a statewide physical fitness test last year, in part because of budget cuts wiped out physical education programs. In a 2011 survey released by the California State PTA, 75 percent of California PTA members said their children’s PE or sports programs were cut or reduced dramatically.

  1. KIDS DON’T WALK TO SCHOOL

Among students living within 1 mile of school, the percentage of walkers fell from 90% to 31% between 1969 and 2001.

According to the CDC, only 13% of children walk to school today compared with 66% in 1970.

  1. INCREASE IN SEDENTARY ACTIVITIES

A groundbreaking study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that children between ages 8-18 are spending, on average, 7.5 hours/day in front of a screen SITTING, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Combine that with the time sitting at school (between 4-6 hours/day), driving to school, sitting at meals, and doing homework at kids are spending 10-14 hours/day or 75% of their waking hours in sedentary positions.

In 1980, there were 81,000,000 TVs in American households. Today, there are 324,000,000 TVs. At the same time the number of TVs has tripled, the number of obese children and adolescents has also tripled.”

I for one will be championing for more physical education time in schools, get kids moving more, out in nature and getting stand up desks! Get these kids active and moving from an early age and we will reduce a myriad of health issues in the future!

 

 

 

 

 

Get off your chair. Why Movement can Create the Ultimate All Rounder.

 

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We are living in an age where the all rounder is the king. Gone are the days when you specialised in one thing-sports, jobs, and life. You need to be adaptable and ready to perform anything at any time.

Just have a look at the exercises we are now performing- Crossfit, obstacle course racing, hiking, Trail running, swimming, Olympic lifting, etc. You need to have a wide range of skills, have cardio vascular fitness, strength and power. Lean is in, huge bulky beefcakes are out! So how do we prepare the generalist for a ready state, a state of fitness readiness for what ever is thrown at you. Can you go for a 10 kilometre hike, a stand up paddle, a kayak, move furniture, chase your kids around at the park at the drop of a hat? How do we prepare people so they don’t get injured, have the foundation to learn new skills and perform all these activities that the all rounder needs. The answer is movement. We need to move more, be supple, get up out of the chair, stop sitting and start moving.

According to Dr. Kelly Starrett of mobilitywod.com, a physical therapy doctor, Crossfit box owner and one of the leaders in movement practices, we cannot sit in a chair in a mechanically good position. Our hips are neutral, our pelvic floor turns off, we lean forward, our breathing and diaphragm are compromised, head and neck move forward and spine is a in poor position. Everything shuts down! Starrett says we can sit in a good position on the floor as that is what our bodies are designed to do. We never take our hip to full range of motion any more. We sit down on the chair (hips at 90 degrees), getting up out of bed (90 degrees), sitting in the car, plane, bike (90 degrees), then we head to the gym and get on the elliptical machine or run on the treadmill. One great activity for this is the Caveman Squat (you can view the video here). This squat hold position puts our hips in full range on motion, increasing Anterior Tibialis (front muscles of the calf) flexibility and movement as well as increases the dorsiflexion of our ankles and this allows to move better. Taking our hips to end range of motion helps keep our hips stable.

Of course sometimes we have to sit- flying on a plane or driving in the car for example. But other than that we need to be in constant motion, always moving. Stand up desks at work or if possible walking treadmills. This make us move as well as helping us burn more calories and increase productivity. We can take frequent movement breaks- for every 30 minutes sitting get up and walk around for a few minutes, do a cavemen squat hold, some push ups, dips or dead hangs.

We know the answers, we just aren’t applying them!

We know the massive problem we have with childhood obesity. They are eating the wrong foods- too many processed foods with high amounts of sugars and industrial oils. They aren’t moving or exercising enough and spend too much time on technologies like ipads, phones and too much screen time. Stand up desks in schools will help kids keep in constant motion by standing, moving and changing feet position. Studies have shown that kids sit for about 4 and half hours a day. Think about it, we sit to eat breakfast, sit in the car or bus on the way to school, sit all day in the classroom, come home, sit to eat dinner, sit to watch television, ipad or computer. We know the answer- get kids standing up and moving to help create the fit, all rounders that are resilient and less likely to get injured. Kids with stand up desks at school burn 15-25% more calories per day! Kids are more engaged in a standing classroom and can interact better, increasing social skills and group work. It creates a discussion around movement being the norm and according to stand up kids, a get US based website highlighting the benefits of moving, it creates a “movement rich environment and as one researcher put it, physical activity is cognitive candy”.

Activities like Crossfit test our full physical capability running, full range of motion activities (kettlebells), mobility exercises and power and Olympic lifts. Crossfit is helping to create the all rounder who is ready for any activity walking, lifting, and helping a mate move house. Getting ready for life.

If you think about what are brains are designed or have evolved to do. It is designed to receive information then interpret that data to help us move through the environment to find food, shelter, water and to reproduce. You must be able to think to move through your environment and you must be able to move well through the environment to survive. We need a movement practice to help us be come good thinkers and problems solvers. We need to have a regime where we are constantly working on flexibility and movement exercises.

To become the ultimate all-rounder and have a ready state for anything we need to have all things in our life in order- nutrition, sleep, hydration, mechanics and MOVEMENT.

Helping kids behave better, concentrate harder and become Primal.

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Kids are naturally inquisitive, engage in imaginative play and regularly exercise. This means they are, without knowing it, on their way to becoming a Primal human being. They naturally want to explore, play in the dirt and run around barefoot. But what happens when our kids when they get in a habit of too much technology, computers and  screen time. What can you do as a parent to break the cycle of dependence on screens? I know my kids become staring zombies, grumpy, irritable and less efficient when looking at a screen for even 10 minutes. They get focused on the screen and cannot communicate, let alone be distracted enough to listen to a simple request. There are several things you can do to help you kids become primal like diet and exercise but the big one is reducing screen time. These things, and more, will help improve multiple facets of your little one life’s including concentration, behaviour and even mood.

  1. Diet- Improving your child’s diet is the number one factor in your child’s health. If you can change their eating to more of a primal aligned diet they will have an increase in cognitive function, mood and behaviour. Things you can do to improve diet
  • Eat more plants and animals including lots of veges and a piece of fruit a day.
  • Avoid processed foods high in sugar and vegetable oils.
  • Limit intake of all sugars including juices, sweets and lollies.
  • Set consistent meals times and eat as a family at a dinner table, not in front of the TV.
  • No junk food the large amounts of vegetable oil and hidden sugars are inflammatory and equate to doses of radiation according to Dr. Kate Shanahan author of Deep Nutrition.
  • Control the portion sizes, especially with snacks.
  • Get your child involved in the making of a meal and the setting of the dinner table.
  1. Regular exercise- having your kids involved in regular exercise helps break the addiction of screen time. We all know that regular exercise has physical benefits and helps prevent childhood obesity but it can also help with concentration, sleep and behaviour. It increases blood flow, which helps with the transporting of oxygen to the muscles with helps nutrients to reach organs and tissues around the including the brain. It has also been proven to promote better brain function, memory, concentration. It has also been reported that anxiety and depression levels decrease in correlation to increased amounts of exercise which improves mood, confidence and self-esteem.
  1. Sleep Habits– Poor sleeping habits are linked to poor cognitive performance, mood, short term memory loss and an increase in food consumption due to disruption of the circadian rhythm and the hormones effecting hunger. Things you can do to improve sleep:
  • No technology before bed time and if you can try avoid TV or any blue light screen 30 minutes to an hour before bed.
  • Set a routine- same time every night, read a book, sing a song.
  • Make the room as dark as possible (tough with young ones who are scared of the dark).
  • No snacking before bed.
  • Have anything electrical with artificial light (clock radios, night lights) away from your child, the skin has receptors that detect light and this messes with our bodies sleep rhythms.
  1. Limit the use of technology- It is believed by many psychologists that a child’s poor mood and behaviour often results from excessive use of electronic devices. This causes hyper-arousal or “tired and wired”, where the child is agitated and exhausted. Excessive use of technology can also lead to poor social interactions as well as affecting sleep, circadian rhythm and hormones. It is recommended by the Health department that kids between the ages of 2-5 years have less than an hour a day. Getting children out into nature, getting sunshine and engaging in imaginative or structured play is primal in its nature and has many flow on effects including cognitive function, mood, fitness and behaviour.
  1. Social Interactions– Helping kids develop healthy social interactions teaches them the values, knowledge and skills that help them relate to others effectively and make positive contributions to family and the community, much like it would have been in primal times as hunter gathers. Team sports and joining community groups can help with positive social interactions. Other ways you can help you child in a “tribe” setting:
  • Teach them to solve day to day problems they encounter.
  • Help them to think through solutions to those problems.
  • Ask questions.
  • Encourage them to empathise with others- “how would you feel if…”
  • Encourage them to state their opinions and thoughts and discuss moral issues with them.
  1. Be consistent with expectations, routines and rules- be consistent gives children a known predicted outcome any given situation. If they know that there is consistency they will know where they stand, the expected values, knowledge and outcomes from their behaviour. Inconsistency can cause anxiety.

These simple and easy steps can help you child function better, concentrate harder and will improve their mood and behaviour. They are by no means hard things to implement and will help them Live Primal, which is in fact how we should live. If we can model good behaviours, like following the Going Primal blog post from a few weeks ago, our kids will inevitably want to do the same.