Active kids learn to be active adults


Keeping your children active shouldn't be a problem in Western Washington, with its range of recreational opportunities.

This area offers almost year-round access to such popular sports as soccer, running, kayaking and hiking, to name a few. In the winter, sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing widen the mix.

We all know the importance of exercise for developing young bodies. But how can a parent persuade a reluctant child to turn off the computer, get off the couch and move?

Jen Gallant, the Girls on the Run coordinator for Whatcom Family YMCA in Bellingham, says it's good for parents to start their children early on a path toward regular exercise and healthy eating.

"I just find that kids who demonstrate good decision-making as children are likely to carry that into adulthood," she says.

Girls on the Run is a nationally known program that integrates running into life lessons for girls in third through eighth grade.

Gallant says having an active parent helps to model healthy behavior for their children.

"Kids pick up on that," she says. "It can be a fun, family thing."


Gallant says recreational outings don't have to be intricate, highly planned adventures. They can be as simple as sledding in the Mount Baker wilderness, riding a bike or playing a game of tug of war.

With her own daughters, Gallant gently pressed them to find sports or activities that they enjoyed.

"They both have learned early on that we as a family get outside and move our bodies," she says. "Keep trying until they find something they like. Don't push them into a team sport if it's not for them.

"Now's the time, when they're young and you're forming those lifelong habits," Gallant says. "Find something that they enjoy. Think outside the box."

One of Gallant's daughters developed a passion for rock climbing as a teen. Now, as an adult, she enjoys challenging her body, testing the limits of her endurance.

"When she discovered rock climbing, her whole life changed," Gallant says.

Her other daughter wanted to roller skate as a young girl, and Gallant drove her for practice at the rinks in Lynden and Mount Vernon. Now she's a member of the Bellingham Roller Betties, the rough-and-tumble women's roller derby team.


Susan Elderkin, the communications and outreach director for the Washington Trails Association, based in Seattle, says a key for parents is to get their children outside and to go from there.

"Exposing kids at a younger age really connects them to the environment," she says. "Once they get outside, they love it. I see that with my own children. The key is to get them outside and make it fun and different."

Elderkin sometimes takes her children to the waterfront, with its range of choices from tide pooling, to walking on the beach to climbing rocks at the shore. Lately, they've been having fun with geocaching, using a GPS to locate hidden objects.

"It's like a treasure hunt," she says. "We were able to explore one of our favorite city parks in a whole new way."

Elderkin suggests keeping things simple yet fun. Even a trip around the city can be fun exercise, she says.

Her family enjoys urban adventures, such as exploring Seattle neighborhoods on foot - an activity that would translate easily in Bellingham, with its neighborhoods and parks that are connected by a nationally acclaimed series of greenways for biking, hiking and walking.

"In general, kids who get outside and use their bodies are less likely to become obese adults," Elderkin says. "(My children) know I'm a hiker, but sometimes we just go to park and throw a Frisbee. And I try not to make my hikes forced marches."


Make it fun and different. Look for activities for your children that combine education and exercise, such as tide pooling, geocaching or exploring a neighborhood.

Don't push your kids. Try various activities until they find something they enjoy.

Sometimes, simple can be best. Try bicycling, Frisbee, tug of war, or a game of catch.


According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents should have at least one hour of physical activity every day, with a mix of three types of activity:

Aerobic activity should make up most of the 60 minutes a day. Moderate aerobic activity includes brisk walking. Vigorous activity, such as running, should be done at least three days a week.

Muscle strengthening, such as gymnastics or push-ups, should be done at least three days a week.

Bone strengthening, such as through jumping rope or running, should be done at least three days a week.

The American Heart Association says if your child doesn't have a full hour of physical activity each day, try to provide two half-hour periods, or four 15-minute periods of vigorous activity.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or

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