Guest Column - March 2008
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Get 'em off the Couch...And Onto the Playground

By Matt Miller

s childhood obesity continues to be a concern nationwide, parents are looking for alternate ways to simultaneously encourage activity and teach lifelong developmental skills. A common complaint among parents today is the inability to get their children off the couch and away from indoor electronic or online games.

As study after study emerges about the growing number of obese children in the United States, America's weight problem is casting a shadow on the health of its younger generations. According to a market research study conducted by The NPD Group, among all U.S. kid gamers, approximately half play six to 16 or more hours per week. Research studies have conclusively proven that bad exercise habits teamed up with poor eating habits are causing significant weight gain among children. This can lead to multiple health problems down the road, shortening life expectancy and damaging overall wellness.

Teaching kids the importance of good eating habits as well as helping them stay active is an important responsibility. But it doesn't have to be a struggle. Just getting kids outside to play helps improve their physical health. One of the simplest ways to begin the fight against obesity originates on the local playground, especially playgrounds that have enhanced elements of activity.

The face of today's playground is changing. The traditional jungle gyms, slides and swing sets have become things of the past. Vibrant colors, inventive designs and modern technology create a more challenging environment for children, stimulating their minds and encouraging them to use their muscles in new ways.

New structures on playgrounds are pushing children physically and mentally by offering advanced obstacles for them to formulate ways through, around and over, pushing their muscles and their minds more than the structures of the past. These newer playgrounds are no longer navigated by the up-and-down movements of older designs. Kids now have to go up, down, sideways, over and under to twist and turn their way around the playground. With all of the new choices—crawl tubes, climbing walls, play webs and more—altering each journey from one end of the playground to the other, kids are being challenged on a mental level and are getting the exercise they need.

Modern technology is also being implemented in playground designs. Because children of all ages—especially those in their early adolescence and teenage years—are now used to playing indoor electronic or online video games, playgrounds have added similar elements. This makes the simple game of tag or traditional dance movements an exciting outdoor adventure, while also raising heart rates and the level of fun. With lights, buttons and sounds to find and follow, persons of all ages and abilities can have an exhilarating new way to play outdoors, all the while improving agility, balance, fitness and social skills.

The importance of playful activity is escalating as parents become increasingly aware that their children are receiving full-body workouts at playgrounds. By running, jumping, leaping and climbing around play structures, kids are staying fit. Playgrounds offer continuous challenges that keep children entertained and take the focus off the chore of exercise, creating a fun, rewarding activity that burns fat and strengthens endurance.