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According to U.S. government statistics, 32 percent of our children are either overweight or obese – making them susceptible to all kinds of health risks. Never mind low self esteem, depression, and reduced ability to participate in physical activities with their friends. But parents can do a lot to help keep their children healthy – including identifying physical activities that instill a lifelong interest in remaining healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, children ages 6 to 17 should get one hour of physical activity daily – a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone strengthening activity. But we’re not talking about an hour of a gym. There are plenty of ways to “trick” your kids into being active – by making it fun. And it just might inspire you to get more fit yourself! Here are a few suggestions.

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Get Started Early: Play

One of the best ways to ensure your kids live active lives is by getting them started early. Here are some places you can go to get some fun exercise in for the little people.

Gymboree

Locations throughout Los Angeles.
More Info

Gymboree Play & Music offers a wide range of programs designed to help children ages 0-5 develop socially, physically and cognitively. And while most of the Gymboree classes include some sort of physical activity, they also offer two sports classes for kids ages 3-5. They learn fitness and sports fundamentals, team-building and more. Visit the Web site to sign up for a free class, explore the available options and find a location near you.

MyGym

Locations throughout Los Angeles.
More Info

My Gym offers programs to help children ages 6 weeks thru 13 years of age develop physically, cognitively and emotionally. Weekly classes use dance, gymnastics, games, sports and more to get kids moving while helping them to develop strength, balance, coordination, agility and flexibility. Classes include gymnastics, karate/martial arts training and gym classes that require parent participation for smaller children. Free demo classes are offered, as are a variety of membership options. Visit the Web site for more information and to find a site near you.

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Get on a Team

Team sports are a good way to make sure your kids get in exercise – without them thinking they’re “exercising.” To them it’s as much a social activity that gets their competitive juices flowing. Your kids can try out for team sports at their school. But there are non school-related teams you can get your kids involved in. Here are some suggestions:

Departments of Parks & Recreation

Southern California has a number of county and city parks and recreation departments that create programs designed to help those who live in the community live a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the facilities, these park systems also have created youth sports leagues that often include football, soccer, baseball, basketball and more. Visit these web sites to find a park near you offering a youth sports program:

City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks: laparks.org
LA County Department of Parks and Recreation: parks.lacounty.gov
OC Parks: www.ocparks.com

Sports organizations

There are a number of organizations that promote specific sports and help develop programs in local communities. These are a good way to get your kids in sports teams if they’re not inclined or able do to do so at the school level. Here are a few that have a presence in Southern California:

American Youth Soccer Organization: soccer.org
Little League: littleleague.org
SoCal Hoops: www.socalhoops.com

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Individual Sports

Team sports are just not appealing for some kids. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t get involved in competitive fitness activities. There are a number of “independent” physical activities your kids can participate in that allow them to be competitive and excel –as independent contributors. Here are some suggestions:

Swimming

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise you can get. It’s low impact and works virtually every muscle in your body. Never mind that most kids enjoy it – particularly when it’s hot outside in Southern California. Experts recommend that your kids learn to swim as early as possible (I’ve seen some great one-year-old swimmers!). Many of the public park systems have pools and offer swimming lessons. But here are a few swim schools that come highly recommended.

Beverlywood Swim School
2612 S Robertson Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 838-4088
More Info

Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy
Westside Jewish Community Center
5870 West Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 525-0323
More Info

Waterworks Aquatics
25 Waterworks Way
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 450-0777
(310) 277-7775
More Info

Gymnastics

There’s something about cartwheels, flips and somersaults that get kids going. And gymnastics helps kids build body and muscle strength and flexibility, balance, agility and more. Gymnastics is also a great – but fun – cardiovascular workout for kid. Here are a few local organizations that provide gymnastics for kids.

Team OC Gymnastics
385 Clinton Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 444-1144
More Info

Fit Kids Gymnastics Center
2641 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Redondo Beach, Calif., 90278
(310) 297-9550

3858 Sepulveda Blvd
Torrance, CA
(310) 373-4455
More Info

Klub Gymnastics
1110 Bates Ave.
Silver Lake, CA 90029
323-662-KLUB or 323-662-5582
More Info

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Youth Organizations

There are also a number of non profit youth organizations that strive to help the community live a happy and healthy lifestyle. This includes after-school care and fitness programs that help to make families – and communities – stronger. These programs help keep kids busy in the after-school hours while their parents are working. Importantly, they aren’t just “daycare” centers. They emphasize nutrition, fitness and academic achievement.

YMCA

The YMCA is a non-profit organization that provides programs to help communities live balanced, healthy lives. These programs include after-school care, arts and fitness programs, and much more. You can enroll your kids (and yourself) in any number of fitness activities, including basketball, soccer, golf and much more, as well as get affordable memberships to the Y’s fitness centers. More information is available on the YMCA’s local web sites:

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles: www.ymcala.org
YMCA of Orange County: www.ymcaoc.org

Boys & Girls Clubs of America

The mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. And the organization does this via very affordable after school programs that emphasize character development, community service, educational achievement, healthy living and more. Fitness programs vary by site, but include basketball, hockey, baseball and more.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America: www.bgca.org
Boys & Girls Clubs L.A. County Alliance www.bgclacounty.org

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Family Activities

One of the best ways to get your kids to live an active lifestyle is to serve as a good example. Many of the resources I’ve noted above provide opportunities for parents to become involved, too. But this is Southern California! So get out to Santa Monica and rent bikes as a family on the boardwalk, or take a hike together in one of Southern California’s many city and regional parks. And keep in mind that every minute you spend lounging on the couch is a poor fitness example for your kids. New Year’s resolution, maybe?

Jennifer Vides blogs at Jennifervides.com.

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