Six ways to improve fitness and nutrition for your children

Posted by Shawn Gaunt - 21 May, 2013

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body but it is the basis for dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” – John F. Kennedy

Shawn Gaunt, M.S., CSCS, Randolph’s Director of Strength and Fitness, gave a Parents Connect presentation on fitness and nutrition for Lower School children. Here he provides information, resources and ideas for families to prevent or reverse childhood obesity and maintain healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.

fitness_unflippedAs I meet with many of our varsity athletes regarding their dietary plan, I continually see an overall lack of basic nutrition knowledge. Most of them are unaware of how to get protein on their plate or how much water they need to consume daily. It really just tells me that this information needs to get to them much earlier in their life, so that good habits are formed and health issues can be prevented.

1) Prevent childhood obesity

Obesity commonly begins at 5-6 years of age and children who are obese at age 10-13 have 80% chance of being obese as an adult. If one parent is obese, a child has a 50% chance of being obese. If both parents are obese, that likelihood is 80%. There are good reasons for us to manage our own weight and prevent our children from becoming obese. Each year in the US, 300,000 deaths are linked to obesity. The annual cost of obesity to society is $100 billion. Obesity is linked to associated risks of diabetes, lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Ways to manage obesity include a change of eating habits and being more physically active. Also:

  • Decrease fatty foods/added sugars/fast food/soft drinks
  • Eat less fast food
  • Control portion sizes
  • Plan meals
  • Eat healthy snacks
  • Do not use food as reward.

Before a sports game, it is a good idea to have a healthy snack an hour before the game begins. Some good options are: an apple and half of a kids’ Clif bar; half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; and/or a whole grain granola bar.

2) Eat balanced meals

An example of a healthy plate would be half fruit and/or vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrates. Often, our plates are more like three-quarters carbs and a quarter protein, with no fruit or vegetables. We must focus on filling our plates with more fruits and vegetables.

Meals/snacks should contain The Big Three: whole grains, lean protein and fruit/vegetables. Whole grains are higher in fiber and provide sustained energy. They include oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain bread and cereal. Lean proteins – nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, yogurt, milk, eggs – maintain lean muscle mass, which leads to a higher metabolic rate.

When choosing fruit and vegetables remember that fresh is best and more color is better.

Breakfast is the most important meal of day. Our brains run on glucose and we should fuel them within an hour of waking and every three-four hours throughout the day. Whatever you eat, you will get about four hours of energy. Your metabolism will slow down if you don’t eat every three-four hours.

It is also important to look at nutrition labels, ingredient lists and serving sizes. What amount of sodium, sugars and fats does the item contain. What are the main ingredients? Can you pronounce them? Not all fats are bad. Good fats are important: Nordic Naturals fish oil is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Ground flax seeds and almonds are another source of Omega 3s. For more information and recipes, visit

3) Speed up their metabolism

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the standard for measuring body composition. It calculates the ratio of an individual’s weight to his or her height. The BMI scale is not age-dependent therefore ranges apply to everyone. BMI isn’t always the best indicator of a healthy weight. It can be misleading. It doesn’t take into account lean muscle mass, which increases after puberty.

Pediatricians generally track BMI as part of their routine check-ups. It is also easy to find out your BMI online. The only values needed are height, weight, and age. is a good fitness website that has this easy-to-use calculator. Other body composition tests, such as the skinfold test, Bod Pod, Dual Energy X-Ray, Absorpiometry (DEXA), and Bioelectrical Impedence Analysis (BIA), can be done at various health/wellness facilities by a fitness professional.

What the numbers mean:

  • 18-25 Healthy
  • 25-30 Overweight
  • 30-35 Grade 1 Obesity
  • 35+ Grade 2 Obesity

4) Keep children well watered

Children should be drinking five to eight cups (40-64 oz) daily. Half of that should be during the school day. One cup of water every 15-20 minutes during activity is needed to maintain hydration. Three percent dehydration can impair physical and mental performance by up to 30%.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. If you are thirsty, this is an indication that you are already dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are headaches, fatigue, dark urine with strong odor and decreased mental focus.

Children should drink water and milk (skim or 1%). Water is calorie-free and can be flavored to enhance drinkability. Your brain is made up of 80% water. One cup of milk has a third of the calcium needed daily.

Sport Drinks (Gatorade/Powerade) should only be consumed after 90 minutes of vigorous activity.

Soft drinks and fruit juices (not fresh squeezed) should be avoided as they drastically increase caloric intake and usually replace the water and milk that our kids need. Drinking soft drinks at early age leads to increased consumption later.

5) Get them moving

One hour a day of physical activity most days of week is recommended. Encourage participation and positively reinforce activity. Prior to age 10, kids lack the cognitive ability to remember complex strategies for competition and mastering motor skills is difficult. Beneficial activities for young children are walking, jogging, swimming, yoga and any activity that is unstructured.

Should weights wait? Resistance training is as safe as any sport or activity if it is done properly with appropriate supervision.

If children are going to engage in resistance training activities, they should do high reps with low amounts of weight. High rep ranges (12-20) with submaximal loads are optimal. Machines are a great place to start. Avoid ballistic movements with resistance. Instead, do exercises which use body weight, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, jump rope and mountain climbers.

At Randolph, Middle School students use light weights in activities. Upper School students begin more advanced weight-training.

6) Be a good role model

We are role models. Children at a young age learn habits, good and bad, from parents. Try to model healthy eating behaviors and physical activity.

Look for ways to encourage and reward physical activity. Make it a family event. Have children wear pedometers and reward them for a certain number of steps achieved. Give children chores requiring physical activity, such as raking leaves and gardening.

Play games like Hide and Seek or Red Light-Green Light. Use hula hoops or a trampoline. Fitness based video games like Kinect/Wii and dance games are a good way to incorporate more activity.

Make nutritious foods available at home and reward healthy choices. Use the 90/10 rule for good choices: be healthy 90% of the time and indulge 10%.

“Take care of your body. It is the only place that you have to live.” – Jim Rohn

Additional notes were contributed by Henri Helstowski.

Interested in more posts about healthy lifestyle for children? Take the Upper School Healthy Makes You Happy Club’s lifestyle challenge.

Learn more about yoga for children.

Topics: exercise, family, fitness, food, Lower School, training

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