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Stamford: Walking, running aren’t the sole way for kids to get fit

Walking and running are emphasized in the GO, KIDS, GO! program, and for good reason. They’re something almost everyone can do, they’re convenient and they’re effective in increasing fitness, reducing body fat and enhancing health.

But what if you prefer other physical activities? Are they just as good, and can you do them and still participate? Let’s take a look.

Good fitness activities have certain characteristics in common that make them effective. They involve large muscle groups and they are rhythmic and not done in stop-and-go spurts like many sporting activities.

They also increase the heart rate and keep it elevated as long as you are exercising. And they are done regularly, daily if possible.

Cycling, swimming and skating fit these requirements nicely, for example, and you can include them if you like.

One approach to a fitness program is to perform only one activity exclusively. Another is to incorporate a variety of activities. Which is best? That depends.

If fitness is your goal, stick to just one activity. The reason is that fitness is very task specific. This means when I run regularly I will become more fit for running, but not for swimming.

So, the choice is, concentrate on one activity and maximize the fitness for that specific activity. Or do more than one and become a little more fit for each, but know that you will benefit in other ways.

When making your choice, keep in mind that when it comes to health and managing your weight, the amount of fitness you achieve is not the most important factor. The key is performing the exercise – engaging in the process, rather than the outcome (fitness, the end product).

If you decided to walk/run, say, three days a week, and on the other days you cycle, swim or skate, you might not become as fit for running as you would if you followed the GO, KIDS, GO! program step by step. But you still would become more fit than you were.

And since the other activities burn lots of calories, just like running, the amount of fat you lose and the amount of health you gain would be about the same.

Building muscles

For kids who are highly motivated to be the best they can be and to maximize the benefits of exercise, let me suggest a supplement that is fun, easy to do and won’t take much time.

But don’t add anything until you are several weeks into GO, KIDS, GO! and don’t add if you think it might be too much and interfere with the success of the basic program.

Let’s suppose that in addition to increasing your endurance from walking and running, you want to get stronger and start building some muscles. Push-ups are a great way to improve upper-body strength. Each day, make the commitment to do one push-up in each room of your house or apartment.

Start in your bedroom, do one push-up, then immediately walk to the next room. Do another push-up, then move on. When you’re able, do two push-ups in each room, or go around again.

After a while, push-ups will become easier because you are getting stronger and you’ll want to do more of them.

If you can’t do regular push-ups, do them on your knees. It’s still a great exercise to challenge your upper-body muscles. Keep doing them and soon you will be able to do at least one regular push-up, then more.

Bryant Stamford is professor and chairman of the department of exercise science at Hanover (Ind.) College. Address questions or suggestions to “The Body Shop,” The Courier-Journal, P.O. Box 740031, Louisville, KY 40201-7431.

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