By James Beckerman, MD, FACC
Every year around this time it seems like we hear the same advice about dark chocolate, red wine, and the health benefits of romance. But as a father of young children, I thought I’d turn the conversation toward something that we can do as parents to show our kids how much we love them. I became inspired recently by a program in my community called Shape Up Across Oregon — and I bet if you look around you can find similar opportunities where you live.
Shape Up Across Oregon takes a simple idea and makes it fun. About ten years ago, members of the Oregon Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports created a free program to help elementary and middle school kids get more physical activity in a structured way. As you know, it’s getting tougher for kids to incorporate exercise in the school environment as budgets have forced physical fitness out of many schools. But it’s clear that there’s still a demand — Shape Up signed up over 88,000 kids last year, and it will hopefully see greater numbers this season.
The program is a cool mix of geography and exercise. Each child gets a map of the state of Oregon with a route divided into 45 segments, each of which represents 30 minutes of exercise. So the challenge for each kid is perform at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day to make their way across the state. Every kid receives a Certificate of Completion from the Governor, and all participants are eligible for prizes. And teachers can incorporate Shape Up into their curriculums at school. It’s very simple in concept, but also amazing what a little bit of structure and friendly competition can inspire. Similar ideas form the backbone of many successful employee wellness programs.
In health care, there is an increasing focus on reducing childhood obesity and creating a healthier family — WebMD just sponsored a town hall with Michelle Obama in order to discuss these very issues. The role of exercise can’t be underestimated. A research study recently found that maintaining physical fitness can reduce your lifelong risk of high blood pressure by 30%, your risk of high cholesterol by 30%, and your risk of metabolic syndrome by half. The goal of this program is to show kids that a healthier lifestyle can be fun and that it’s completely within their reach.
So check out www.shapeupacrossoregon.org and get inspired to find similar opportunities in your neighborhood. Or get together with other parents and create one yourselves. Not quite as romantic as a nice dinner out, but that’s what dark chocolate and wine are for…