From Your Couch to a 5K: Tips to Get Active and Reduce Childhood Obesity

September marks the beginning of autumn, painting trees in bright reds and oranges with bright blue and sunny skies. That makes it the perfect time for families to break out their walking shoes, because it’s a scientific fact that beautiful scenery can boost feel-good hormones! 

September is also National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This focus is especially important right now, because a recent study showed that obesity among children increased significantly during the pandemic. In addition to other health issues, kids struggling with obesity can experience heartbreaking bullying, depression, low self-esteem, and social isolation.

Obesity is a very complex health issue. But some good habits can help children avoid dangerous weight gain, and get on a journey to good health.

Melissa Santos, PhD, clinical director of Connecticut Children’s Pediatric Obesity Center, shares tips.

 
 

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1. Eat the rainbow. No, not Skittles.

Think: an array of fruits and vegetables, with a side of whole grains and lean proteins.

Make it fun! When it’s time to grocery shop, bring your kids with you and offer to play a color game. Give them the option to select their choices of fruits and veggies as long as their selections meet certain colors such as green, purple, red, blue, etc.

To keep things interesting, look at recipes and select your menu together for the week in advance. There are plenty of tools and resources – from cookbooks to Pinterest, blogs, Alexa, you name it – to find new meals your whole family will love.

Healthy diets can give the critical nutrients every child needs as they grow.

> Related: Meal Planning Made Easy: Advice From a Pediatric Dietitian

2. Say no to added sugar.

Did you know children under age 2 should have no added sugar in any of their foods or drinks at all?

Children over age 2 should keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily intake. Stick to water, plain low-fat milks, 100% juices, and homemade smoothies with fresh fruit from the groceries! This is also a good way to meet your child’s daily recommended servings of fruit.

> Related: 3 Mealtime Habits to Start With Your Family Today

3. Reduce screen time.

Data shows adults AND children spend over seven hours per day sitting or lying down – which leads to poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades, and a decline in mental health. This is another reason to break out those walking shoes and enjoy nature.

It’s also a reminder to create a family media plan and stick to it! Your child looks up to you, whether you think they’re watching or not. Here’s how to do a family digital detox.

Two teen girls running on a wooded trail

4. Be on the move!

Just like babies have to crawl before they walk, kids and adults have to walk before we run. Set mini goals and start with a walk with your child.

Walking burns calories and increases serotonin levels, which can help reduce the risk of depression. A short walk after eating can lower blood sugar. Walking can ease joint pains by lubricating and strengthening the muscles that support joints. And as we approach the winter season, it can help reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu!

Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every single day! So play outside with your child. It’s good for you, too.

> Related: Fitness Challenges to Keep Kids, Teens and Athletes Active

5. Go from your couch to (maybe) a 5K!

Looking to start a new Thanksgiving tradition? Sign your family up for your neighborhood Turkey Trot! These races usually range from one mile to five miles, which you can choose to run, jog or walk. 

Below are some of the events happening around Connecticut on Thanksgiving Day. Some even offer both in-person and virtual options: 

  • Manchester Road Race* (4.78 miles) – Manchester, CT  
  • Bottoms Up Organization 5k Turkey Trot (3.1 miles) – Avon, CT
  • Bethel Turkey Trot (3.1 miles) – Bethel, CT
  • Newtown Turkey Trot (3.1 mile run and 1.5 mile walk) – Newtown, CT
  • Run Turkey Run (3.1 miles) – Hamden, CT
  • Thanksgiving Day Race (5 mile run or 2.6 mile walk) – Fairfield, CT

Follow the plan below — adapted from the Couch to 5K Program — to get your whole family ready for race day! Other than walking or running, feel free to add in cross-training days with activities such as swimming, biking, yoga, or strength training. On rest days, focus on stretching or core strengthening.

10-Week Couch to 5K Program

 SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
Week 1
5 min walk
2 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
2 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
3 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 25 min walk
3 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
4 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
5 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 35 min walk
6 min jog
5 min walk
Rest4 min jog
5 min walk
4 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
7 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 45 min walk
7 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
8 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
9 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 55 min walk
9 min jog
5 min walk
Rest6 min jog
5 min walk
6 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
10 min jog
5 min walk
Rest5 min walk
11 min jog
5 min walk
Week 65 min walk
11 min jog
5 min walk
Rest13 min jog
5 min walk
Rest15 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 715 min jog
5 min walk
Rest8 min jog
5 min walk
8 min jog
5 min walk
Rest16 min jog
5 min walk
Rest17 min jog
5 min walk
Week 817 min jog
5 min walk
Rest18 min jog
5 min walk
Rest20 min jog
5 min walk
RestRest
Week 920 min jogRest12 min jog
5 min walk
12 min jog
Rest24 min jog
5 min walk
Rest25 min jog
Week 1025 min jogRest27 min jogRest30 min jogRelaxRace Day!

*Join Our Team for the Manchester Road Race! If interested, please email obesity@connecticutchildrens.org

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