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A Healthy Body Equals a Healthy Mind…That Goes For Kids Too!


It’s no secret to anyone with a pair of eyes that America is in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Our “bigger is better” culture has created a nation of people who are overweight, and out of shape. At some point in the very near future, inactivity and poor diet will pass smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. You’ve heard the news stories, read the articles, and listened to Oprah and Dr. Oz wax philosophical on the subject. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) were obese in 2005-2006. Three years later, that number has probably increased significantly.

As adults, we have the option to either take responsibility for our choices, and try to change and lead healthier, more active lives, or we can bury our heads in the sand and wait for the cranes to show up and carry our oversized behinds out of the house when we’re too big too fit through the door. OK…a little harsh, I know, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As adults, we DO have the ability to decide how we want to live our lives, and are prepared to deal with the effects of those choices.

Our children, however, don’t have that choice.

What’s scarier than the staggering number of obese adults in our country, is the number of obese children. 14% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are already overweight. Due to lack of exercise and poor diet, Type 2 Diabetes is expected to afflict 1 in 3 American children born after the year 2000. In African-American and Hispanic communities, this number will rise to 1 in 2.

I’m not a parent, so far be it from me to chastise anyone on how they are raising their children, or try and tell them what they are doing wrong. However, even though I don’t have kids of my own, I was a fat kid, and I am currently a teacher who sees first hand the effects a sedentary lifestyle has on a young mind. It’s hard not to be concerned when you see children coming to school, day after day, with nothing but a sack full of candy, chips and soda to eat as their food for the day. Or, when you see an 11 year old wheezing and complaining after walking up one flight of steps.

We live in a time where kids spend up to 6 hours, or more, a day in front of a TV or computer screen. And if they aren’t getting any exercise at home, they certainly aren’t getting it at school either. 92% of schools in the United States don’t have daily physical education classes, and 33% of elementary schools don’t even have recess on a regular basis.

Personally, I have seen how making small, positive changes in my daily routine could snowball into leading a much healthier and active lifestyle. I felt the motivating effects that increased movement and exercise had on every aspect of my life, and wanted to share that with the students I teach. Two months ago, I was given the opportunity to work with a free program called “Mighty Milers”, which is designed to get kids running and walking, and is sponsored by the New York City Road Runners Foundation. Currently the program services 75,000 students at 182 schools and community centers nationwide. Schools are asked to have students walk or run at least a half -mile, 2-5 times a week, and to pledge to meet a year-long, cumulative goal of anywhere between 26.2 to 104.8 miles (1 to 4 marathons).

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The experience I have had running this program at my school has been one of my most rewarding as a teacher. Not only was the opportunity to participate in the club a great motivating tool for my students academically, but it also helped to improve their focus and performance in the classroom as well. My students have started to learn how to set realistic, short-term goals for themselves, and have experienced the pride that goes along with seeing those goals met.

I wasn’t just the facilitator of the program – I made myself an active participant as well. I felt I needed to lead by example, and was there with the kids every day, sweating it out, mile after mile. Sometimes we ran (or at least tried to), but most of the time, we walked, anywhere between 1 and 2.25 miles a day. The first week was hard, but like anything, it became routine, and before I knew it, the students had become as fully engaged in this experience as I was. Physically, they all got better, and it became easier, as these things usually do. What I didn’t foresee, however, was the amazing effect this experience would have on the personal relationships in our classroom.

Socially, I have seen my students bond with each other in an entirely different way than they have all year long. After a couple of sessions on the track, the walls that separated the cliques and groups seemed to disappear. Every day, I would observe how students interacted with each other in a different, and positive way. The “quiet kid” became the “funny kid.” The “nerd” became the “track star.” The “prima donna” learned that she was the fastest runner in the entire grade, leaving the macho, athletic boys in the dust time and time again.

I watched them leave behind the stereotypical behaviors that are associated with most middle-schoolers and become each other’s biggest fans. At the end of the year, when students typically start getting a little crazy with the thought of summer vacation, my students actually got calmer and more manageable. During this short period of time, we managed to put in over 30 miles, and the kids were rewarded with T-shirts and medals for their hard-work. Several parents thanked me, and told me that they plan on continuing the routines with their children over the summer, not only as a way to get in some exercise, but as a bonding experience too.

It’s no secret that a healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand. Programs like “Mighty Milers” open up a new world to kids, one that extends beyond the mere act of running. Next time you decide to go out and do something active, and physical…take your kids with you. Son, daughter, niece, nephew, neighbor…do what you can to get them out into the fresh air for a little while. Trust me, they can put down the game controller for 30 minutes and can set the DVR to record that episode of Hannah Montana or Drake and Josh.

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Community Thoughts (20)

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  1. MikeNo Gravatar says:

    Hello,

    You wrote “At some point in the very near future, inactivity and poor diet will pass smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States”

    I was wondering if you have a source for this – I am collecting them. I know what a weird hobby.

    In australia they figure obesity results in more premature deaths than smoking. Canada believes obesity causes the biggest strain on the health care system – much much bigger than smoking. The problem is I can never find sources.

    Good luck to you

    • MandyNo Gravatar says:

      @Mike – I can’t believe I didn’t cite my information sources in this post! As a teacher I should know better! LOL. That particular piece of information came from the Center for Disease Control, I believe. Here’s a link to their website:

      Their website is http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html

      Hope this is helpful!

      –Mandy

      • Ah, communication and interactivity at its best!!!!

      • Jordan HaleNo Gravatar says:

        I love your dedication to your kids Mandy. I’m a father of two and one of them is having serious problems with obesity. I liked your first post with out the citations. Not only did it come from the hart but the “authorities” that we tend to cite have an astounding 98% failure rate! I’d rather hear from you.
        Personally I’ve been obese for my entire life until 06 when my DR. pronounced an impending death sentence. I lost 200 pounds out of sheer terror but like you I’m starting to gain it back. I think the cravings can’t be over come by force of will, any more than breathing or body temperature. I think this is all being caused by what you said about the junk (empty) food. It seems that I’m not hungry for crap when I feed my body whole raw fruits and veggies. When I eat processed anything I get famished on a regular basis regardless of how much I eat. The question is … How do we get children to eat whole raw foods with out the processed crap in them? Notice how the obesity rate rose in lock step with the level of processing we did to our food.

        God bless your efforts. Sometimes it seems like divine intervention is the our only hope.
        –Jordy

  2. Matt SNo Gravatar says:

    This is great. Nutrition and brainpower go hand in hand.

    It’s no secret that the modern North American diet includes far too little Omega-3 fatty acids, and far too much Omega-6. Supplementing with Omega-3 products, such as fish oils, can have an amazing impact on one’s brain function and aesthetic appeal over time.

  3. alfonNo Gravatar says:

    wow this is very nice article.. a healthy body and a healthy mind that makes people

  4. MySenseiNo Gravatar says:

    This is really a great article. What you are doing with the kids is what our youth need. In a generation full of technology, video games, and texting, youths don’t go out and play as much as they used to. Plus the junk food that’s out on the market appealing to kids doesn’t help. I admire what you are doing – there should be more teachers out there willing to help like you!

  5. MandyNo Gravatar says:

    @Matt S., Alfon and MySensei:

    Thanks for the positive feedback!

  6. CraigBNo Gravatar says:

    I love what you are doing. Creating a foundation for healthy habits MUST begin early. So many of us adults have picked up unhealthy and counter-productive behaviors from our parents, guardians, and even our peers. We need to impress the basics of living healthy and being fit upon these kids while they are young so that it will be less of a struggle for them as they get older. Great Article!

  7. KatieNo Gravatar says:

    I’m a big fan of this idea–i feel thhat part of feeling good is looking good, and part of looking good is being comfortable with your body and treating it well. The only way to know that you are doing yourself good is through the empowerment of education. Its so important for kids to know what they are doing and feel in total control.

  8. Fantastic post. I am glad that we have people like yourself working with children and being such a positive role model.

    Health doesn’t have to be hard. Neither does life. But I am of the opinion that the parents are to blame for our children’s declining health.

    Who else are the children to learn from?! It could be argued that television, computer games, the media, the government’s food and drug laws are to blame, but once again it is the parent’s that allow the children to have access to these things.

    So I say, start with yourself (parents / adults) and set a good example to the children.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. Oh and I MASSIVELY agree with the rewards bit you said at the end of the post.

    Children don’t always understand why they are doing something (i.e. they don’t understand the benefits of ‘health’) but will appreciate a reward like medals. Good job!

  10. Nice things said here, and are true, but in my opinion a child should not do wight loss at all. i think wight loss should start from ages of 16-17 when most of the body is already wont grow anymore. and the bones structure is allmost at end. wight loss of a child can effect him for life.

  11. MandyNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Israel. Teaching them the value of physical activity and nutrition at an early age might help them avoid becoming overweight adults. Childhood obesity is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, because it is just setting these kids up for a lifetime of struggles and health problems.

  12. JenniferNo Gravatar says:

    I agree. Obesity is affecting a lot more people now and it’s important for children to start changing their habits.

  13. Ann SNo Gravatar says:

    Child obesity is definatly a huge concern for this generation, although I think it has been a growing concern for generations before. Children face so many stresses these days thru peer pressure also higher expectations of them. Food that is not healthy for us has always been referred to us as comfort food and with the growing popularity of tv and video games kids just dont exercise anymore. Keeping children active is so essential, staying healthy and increasing there self confidence is important. Riding bikes, swimming, playing sports and eating healthy snacks is definatly a start, it doesnt have to cost large amounts of money. We all need to look at our lifestyles and see that preparation and organization is all it takes. Family evening walks in the summer are relaxing and being together and returning home for a nice healthy snack that is already prepared ready for when you return ends the day nicely.
    Taking time to prepare on the go snacks benefit everyone, and when children see there parents doing it they tend to follow suit.
    Lets all try and work together to keep our children healthy and ourselves, we all deserve it.

  14. forumNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Israel. Teaching them the value of physical activity and nutrition at an early age might help them avoid becoming overweight adults. Childhood obesity is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, because it is just setting these kids up for a lifetime of struggles and health problems.

  15. VelvetNo Gravatar says:

    It is really a great article, I love your dedication to improve anyone.

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