Health experts are consistent in asserting that children should exercise, but Dr. Steven Smith of the Hope College kinesiology faculty knows that keeping it fun and finding the time can be a challenge. He has written a book that he hopes will help educators and families do both.
The publication is actually a set of three books, each intended for a different audience: two focused on families or home-school use, depending on their interest and needs, and one for classroom use. Each volume presents a week-by-week, year-long outline of activities that can be done quickly and with a minimum of set-up. Spiral-bound for easy use, they are titled "Family Fitness Flips," "Faithful Fitness Flips" and "Classroom Quick Breaks," and were published this past fall by Credo House Publishers of Grand Rapids.
Smith, whose doctorate is in motor development, has been conducting research regarding performance and fitness levels in children for several years, with an interest in encouraging healthy behaviors. The books grew out of his discovery that exercise plans for children don't do so well unless their families are part of the picture.
"Unless families get involved, nothing changes," he said. "In these books, I wanted families to be able to select activities to do together that can be fun yet don't require a big physical education locker."
"Animal tag," for example, required no equipment - just some imagination as participants crawl around on all fours while trying to catch each other. "Treasure Trove" requires 10 push-ups after each success in a household scavenger hunt. "Shuttle Run" is a variation on "wind sprints," requiring only some simple markers set up every five to 10 yards.
Each two-page "spread" features three or four activities to try in a given week, running across the calendar year, and includes a journal for logging in the activity. The "Family Fitness Flips" edition also includes a simple fitness tip for each week - such as, for example, walking while talking on the phone. "Faithful Fitness Flips" features the same activities, but instead includes a weekly Bible passage for reflection, for those who might instead wish to add a devotional component to their time together.
He developed "Classroom Quick Breaks" with elementary educators in mind, with the activities geared toward multiple participants and structured within a 42-week school-year schedule. His hope is that teachers will find the activities convenient as a transitional exercise - say, as a three-minute break while switching from one academic subject to another, yielding potentially 15 minutes a day of exercise.
Smith notes that the need for additional activity is well-documented, as are guidelines for what that means. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 12.5 million children - more than 17 percent - in the United States are overweight. In turn, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued recommendations for healthy eating and exercise, in the latter case calling for 60 minutes a day of at least moderate activity for children and adolescents, and a minimum of 150 minutes a week for adults.
Smith stresses that books such as the "Fitness Flips" and "Quick Breaks" volumes can be only one component in helping achieve better health. A variety of lifestyle choices, diet and even the availability of resources - outdoor spaces for play, bike paths for riding - are all key considerations, he says, in achieving long-term wellness.
"Physical activity in and of itself is always valuable, and lack of physical activity will always have a cost," he said. "But all those things - behavioral science, nutritional science, opportunities for activity - have to come together to have an impact."
The books cost $14.99 each, and are available at the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore, which is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833. Additional information about the books will be forthcoming online at www.Fitness-flips.com