Keeping Kids Fit At School

In this photo released by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie speaks with internally displaced people at a makeshift camp northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday, July 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Boris Heger)
AP Photo/Boris Heger
As kids around the country head back to school this week, parents may want to do what they can to ensure their children are getting some kind of exercise - even while they're at school.

The Early Show's fitness contributor Minna Lessig has some suggestions, from ergonomically correct backpacks to playground activities like Double-Dutch jump rope and Hacky Sac, to be sure kids are staying fit and healthy.

Ergonomically correct backpack
Having a backpack that is constructed ergonomically helps alleviate a lot of back pain and overall body aches. When body weight distribution is thrown off by carrying a one-shoulder bag for example, the body must compensate. So, the imbalance can cause a multitude of potential problems from postural misalignment to over-extended or strained muscles and ultimately injury. Carrying a lot of books to class is a workout in itself. Why not make it a safe one by distributing this extra weight evenly?

Also important is getting the right fit for a backpack. This is based on torso length, with body height having little effect. So measure your torso length by starting at the 7th vertebra - this where the bony protrusion is at the base of your neck, and measure to the small of your back (level with your hip bones).
18 inches and less = small size suspension on your back pack
18-20 inches = medium
21 inches and more = large size

Additionally, according to the national program "Backpack Safety America," you should look for padded shoulder straps to avoid pressure on the nerves around the armpits. The maximum weight of a backpack should not exceed 15 percent of the child's weight - so if the kid weighs 80 pounds, he shouldn't be carrying more than 12 pounds in his backpack. If the pack forces the carrier to lean forward, it's overloaded. Be sure to use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack, and if it also comes with a waist strap, use that, too.

  • The Nike Carry Gear from Sports Authority is $45 and extremely lightweight. It's also pretty small - ideal for smaller kids. It has Nike Air encapsulated units combined with memory foam, which lessens the load by providing "superior carry comfort." It's from Sports Authority.
  • The L.L. Bean Shockwave Rolling Pack is $89, but has a retractable handle and in-line skate wheels for easier transporting. It's designed for ages 15 and up.

Retractable Sneaker Skates
A sneaker and skate in one; you can walk, run, or skate with the click of a button. These serve as great training skates for beginners or younger kids by using one sneaker with wheels and one without to help with balance, you can get a feel for skating. Skating, in general, helps kids develop balance and coordination skills, as well as keeping them active while they're having fun.
  • 4-Wheels Roller Shoes are about $45 at rollersneaker.safeshopper.com on the web. You just push a button and the wheels pop out. They're ultra-lightweight for easy wearing, and have durable rubber soles for everyday use.

Aquaclip
Hydration is one of the fundamental elements of good health. If you have a water bottle with you at all times, it's a constant reminder to keep drinking. Waiting until you are thirsty is not wise because this means your body is already dehydrated, and telling you so. Also, kids can save a lot of extra sugar calories by drinking water instead of sodas and sugary juices. The Aquaclip makes carrying your water bottle easy and hip. It clips right onto your jeans!
  • The Aquaclip is available on the Web at aquahook.com and costs $3.

Double-Dutch jump rope
Everyone knows that jumping rope, while fun, is also an amazing cardio workout. It builds stamina and can also help with coordination - especially if you are Double-Dutch jump roping, which is quite difficult. However, Double-Dutch jump rope is a popular activity for young kids, and can easily be done in the playground at school since the ropes are so easily transported. All you need are two people to turn the ropes; this encourages teamwork and sportsmanship. And, kids who've mastered the basics in double dutch can challenge themselves by hopping on one foot, bouncing a ball, picking up and putting down a stone in between jumps, and jumping high enough for the rope to pass twice before landing.

  • You can buy Double-Dutch jump ropes as a set online at esportsonline.com and they cost $10.

Hacky Sac & Takraw Ball
This small item can provide a lot of physical activity. The idea is to keep the bag in the air and off the ground as long as possible using just the feet and knees. Between kicking and lifting knees and rotating your legs to catch the footbag anyway you can, you use a lot of lower body strength, coordination, and balance, and it gets your heart rate up, too. It's a fun, cheap way to sneak a little exercise in between classes or on lunch breaks. The Takraw ball is the same idea, but the ball is a little harder (since it's plastic) and larger than the Hacky Sac.
  • Hacky Sac can be found at most sporting good stores and costs about $5. The Takraw Ball is available on the Web at esportsonline.com and costs $14.

Reaction Ball
Its six-sided design means it will pop, bounce and leap unpredictably in different directions. And because of this, it helps kids improve reaction time and hand-eye coordination. Also, all the chasing around to catch the ball and keep it going means not only forward/backward but lateral movement is encouraged, thus all the muscle groups in the legs are strengthened. It's a good form of cardio, too. Kids' attention spans are limited so the fact that it bounces so multi-directionally holds their interest longer - it's challenging.
  • Reaction Ball is about $10 each at shapeupshop.com. A free exercise guide and game suggestion sheet is included.

Kids Pedometer
Just as adults need an extra little kick for motivation at times, so do kids. Kids can keep track of how far they walk with these made-for-kids pedometers. Walking is one of the easiest ways to burn off the extra calories. Encouraging kids to walk more whenever possible will go a long way, and using the pedometer can make it fun to track success.
  • The Go The Distance Pedometer from Ballys Total Fitness is for kids ages 6 and up, and costs about $10. It clips easily onto clothes and times workouts and races in addition to keeping track of how far kids run or walk. Uses one watch battery.
  • The Talking Calorie Count Pedometer from Sports Authority is $20. It tracks your steps and the distance walked, and speaks to you, which is very appealing for kids. It also has a built-in time-of-day clock and alarm, and it features seven different melodies that can be activated when you walk or jog - matching the tempo with your walking speed.