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A Family Exercise Routine Keeps the Diabetes Monster Away From Black Children



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We talk a lot on MyBrownBaby about the benefits of exercise for kids—and we have some more helpful ammunition today to keep pressing the point, this time through a study published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A clinical trial done with 222 overweight children over the course of 13 weeks found that just 20 minutes of exercise a day could protect kids from contracting diabetes.

“I hope these findings will provide an impetus for changes in communities around the U.S. and the rest of the world that will focus attention on children’s health,” said the lead author of the study, Catherine L. Davis, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia. “This can be done by providing welcoming, safe physical activity programs for children of all skill levels.”

To study the effects of exercise, the authors wisely used children who were in after school programs. The kids were divided into three groups: one group did 40 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, a second group did 20 minutes and the third group went about their usual routines.

After 13 weeks, the researchers found that those kids who were active for just 20 minutes a day were more fit, had less body fat, and had better markers for diabetes risk when compared to kids who weren’t active.

And as opposed to other studies that found that black girls have much more difficulty dropping weight using just exercise, the authors found that health effects of exercise were the same for boys and girls and for different races.

According to the study, the more exercise, the better—kids who exercised 40 minutes had even less body fat and better values for markers of diabetes risk.

It will be encouraging to parents to note that these benefits occurred even without changing what kids ate.

So now you have a goal for the kids—hell, for the entire family: at least 20 minute of aerobic exercise a day.

If your family isn’t used to do anything aerobic, this is going to seem like a tall order in the beginning. But once you get your kids into it, they will soon be dragging you along even when you don’t want to get off the couch.

My family recently moved to an apartment complex in Atlanta with a fancy fitness center, and we were determined not to let the center just be something that we ventured inside of when we wanted to impress visitors. My wife Denene and I try to get up there with the kids at least three days a week. It’s not every day, but it’s a start. And we have found that our daughters, 13 and 10, are usually the ones pulling us along, even when we don’t want to go.

Yes, our girls are athletes who are used to sweat, but one thing I’ve noticed about kids is that they’re aware when they start putting on some extra pounds. They may not express it verbally, but it’s on their minds as they move into adolescence and start thinking about how they look. My wife and I were taken aback at my older daughter’s reaction about a year ago when her relatives told her that she looked slimmer. The girl was beaming like she had won the lottery. We were surprised because we had never heard her talking about her weight. But one small compliment, a casual comment uttered by her grandmother, went a very long way.

So the point is that you must start doing these things with your kids, even if you think your kids aren’t aware or don’t care. Because even if they’re not there yet, one day soon they will be. They’ll care how they look; they’ll wish they were in better shape. And with the way that diabetes is tearing through our communities, particularly with blacks and Latinos—I’ve written here before about my own struggles with diabetes and how it opened my eyes up to the importance of diet and exercise—this is something we MUST stay on top of. Even if it hurts. Even if you’re allergic to sweat.

You know what Nike says. Just do it.


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