New Rules of Kids' Fitness

When an NBA star talks, kids listen. That's why more than 250 kids at a New Orleans school were hanging on Tyson Chandler's every word. But Chandler, the 7'1" center for the NBA Hornets, wasn't giving the standard "I always dreamed of playing pro ball" spiel. He was talking two-wheelers with the students of Andrew H. Wilson Charter School during his visit with them as part of the Men's Health FitSchools' fight against childhood obesity.

"When I was growing up, my first love wasn't basketball," Chandler revealed to the surprised audience. "It was bike riding." And that, he explained, cultivated his passion for physical activity, which ultimately helped him thrive at hoops. (Along with a tremendous growth spurt, of course.)

It's this same level of passion that Chandler hoped to inspire at this FitSchools event. And to help that cause, he presented the school with brand-new bikes from Specialized and basketball goals from Spalding, along with a day of fit games with FitSchools staffers and New Orleans Hornets cheerleaders. The objective: to show kids how much fun fitness can be.

You can - and should - take the same approach at home. "Making sure your kids enjoy being active is the key to keeping them healthy for life," says FitSchools advisor Jim Liston, C.S.C.S. "But you may have to do the opposite of your first instinct." How so? See for yourself by following Liston's five new rules of kids' fitness.

1. Don't Compare Your Kids With Others

If your 6-year-old finds himself glued to the bench, it doesn't mean he'll never become a talented athlete. "Kids develop the coordination to run, catch, and throw at different rates," says Liston. "The trouble is, they're often expected to perform at certain levels based solely on their ages." As a result, a child whose development is slower than average may never have the opportunity to catch up to his peers.

Think of it this way: When a kid learns to read, he doesn't start with War and Peace. He starts with letters and words before progressing to sentences and stories. There's simply no way around it. It's the same with sports skills: "If a kid tries to catch a baseball on the run before he's able to catch a beach ball while standing still, he won't have the tools he needs to be successful," says Liston. "Unfortunately, many parents and coaches think the solution is for the child to try harder, when the real secret is backing up to a simpler task that the kid can improve upon."

2. Never Reward Kids With Food

It's no wonder childhood obesity is so prevalent: "We tell our children to eat healthy, but then we reward their good behavior with junk food," says Liston. "Think about what a mixed signal that sends." No, there's nothing wrong with an occasional treat. But to consistently reinforce a kid with ice cream and candy for a job well done - such as finishing his homework or behaving in the grocery store - delivers the wrong message.

What's more, you should use caution in rewarding kids with any kind of food, including healthy fare. "This practice can teach them that it's good to eat even when they're not hungry," explains Liston. "A better strategy is to give them another kind of reward - like extra playtime outside, especially if it's with you." They'll still learn which behaviors will be rewarded, and the prize won't be detrimental to their mental or physical development. Before you eat out, consult this list of the best and worst kids' meals to see if your child's favorite makes the grade.
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