We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

Griffin Moise is only 16 months old. But dad Sean is already making sure that his young son, having now mastered walking, gets conditioned to a lifetime of physical fitness — starting now.

Sean and his wife, Fiona, both nurses, have decided that until Griffin is at least 2, they will keep him away from screens of any kind and instead, play with him hands on, inside and outside.

"They say the first two to three years of life are really important developmentally for children and to set the habits now," said the 41-year-old Forestville father.

On a weekday morning in March he has brought Griffin to My Gym, a Santa Rosa fitness studio that features organized exercise classes designed specifically for very young kids, ranging from age 9 all the way down to 3 months.

In this class, "Waddlers" from 14 to 22 months old get a workout with their parents, presented with music, imagination, motion and quick changes in activities, all choreographed in a way that seems more like play than exercise. The room is as colorful as a tropical fruit basket and filled with balls, swings, monkey bars and other interactive toys.

Experts say that is the key to inspiring kids, growing up in a world that is increasingly sedentary and filled with calorie-laden "entertainment" foods, to get moving.

"Many parents are so stressed and so busy. They don't tend to play with their kids," said Dr. Patricia Kulawiak, a family physician at the Santa Rosa Community Health Centers' Southwest Clinic.

"One of the main tenets of positive parenting is spending time engaging in play, with no corrections. It's all about following the child's lead."

A host of social changes have conspired in the last generation to put children at risk for many health problems that come with obesity.

"When I was a kid, we played outside until the street lights went on. Now parents don't feel safe letting their kids do that," said Lorna Brown, 40. She opened My Gym 10 years ago when she found herself with a new baby and feeling stir-crazy, wondering what to do.

A former competitive Scottish dancer and teacher beginning in early childhood, she was used to vigorous activity.

But now, so many kids, she added, get driven to school and have two working parents too tired to play with them when they come home.

"And they now have so many sedentary activities with iPhones and iPads and TVs and computers, I think kids have a hard time just not having their eyes on something," Brown said. "Unfortunately, we as parents help create that habit. You have to put the screens down yourself."

Physician Marie Mulligan, medical director of the Southwest clinic, said that while there has been some encouraging progress made among preschoolers in terms of prevention, there are estimates that one-third of all Americans born after 2000 are at risk for developing diabetes in their lifetimes. Among Latinos, the risk is 50 percent.

"We've seen prediabetics who are not even 10 years old," she lamented.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend kids get an hour of physical activity daily, mostly vigorous movement like running, bike riding and climbing, with some muscle strengthening as well.

Brown incorporates all of that into each structured workout, with skill stations and activities aimed at building balance, agility, strength and coordination. She also introduces team play with soccer balls and gymnastics, laying an early foundation for a lifetime of sports.

She gets the tiniest tots engaged by turning warm-up exercises into imaginative play, something parents can try at home.

"We pretend we're going swimming and say hi to the fishes," Brown says. "Then 'oh no, here comes the shark' and we swim away really fast. When we do warmups with 3-year-olds, we're pulling fruit from trees and stomping and mooshing it up."

Parents can do this at home, getting kids moving with folding tunnels, bouncy balls and games that involve music and dancing.

The options for activity are endless. The best way, experts say, is simply to be mindful and work it into every day in multiple little ways as simple as walking the dog.

"Play with your child," Brown says. "Whether in the playground or in the backyard, games like basketball, soccer, tag or hopscotch are a great way to stay fit."

Organize games like scavenger hunts that encourage kids to go "find treasures," she added. If possible, walk your child to school. "It's a caring way to exercise and connect with your child."

Enlist your child in chores like folding clothes or putting dishes away. Do it in an assembly line to make it fun.

Even when you're out doing errands, she said, you can park far from the entrance and "let your child push the shopping cart."

The following list of activities is adapted from various sources including the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

— Explore local parks with trails and activities like Howarth, Annadel, Armstrong Redwood, Hood Mountain, Jack London and Spring Lake. For a complete list of Sonoma County Regional Parks, which offer many additional activities, visit parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.

— Play family games outside like basketball, softball, soccer or volleyball. Encourage outdoor play with kits, jump ropes, Frisbees, badminton, horseshoes and other outdoor games.

— Swim and play at a local community pool, Spring Lake Lagoon or the Russian River beaches.

— Buy toys that promote physical activity.

— Whenever possible, walk. Purposely park farther away. Enlist your kids to walk the dog.

— Children aren't hothouse flowers. Engage them in light chores, from vacuuming to rinsing dishes. Getting them involved will teach life skills and get them moving.

— Plant a garden. Kids love experiments and science. Watching radishes shoot up or tomatoes appear on the vine is nature's ultimate, edible magic trick. Raking, hoeing, bending to plant, watering and other tasks can be a good physical workout. The reward is healthy foods that can become a habit. If your yard, patio or balcony is small, start with a barrel or small planters.

— Plan active family vacations that involve boating, swimming, camping, hiking, etc. Even an overnight camp-out will get them moving, pitching a tent and setting up camp. You can even do it in your backyard.

— Check out local farms that host visitors at www.farmtrails.org.

— Skip the movies and arcade in favor of activities like ice skating, roller skating, mini golf and indoor climbing.

— Turn up the music and dance like crazy.

— Get your kids involved in charity fundraisers that involve walking or running. The Human Race on May 10 is made even more fun by costumes.

— Pretend the elevator is broken and take the stairs.

— Check with your city's parks and recreation department for inexpensive classes and sports programs or the YMCA.

— The Scientific 7-Minute Workout is designed to cover all the basics of fitness within a short and very focused time. Visit www.7minuteworkouttimer.com or Google the 7-Minute Workout for variations on YouTube, etc. There are also apps for Android and iPhone.

— Visit www.sonoma-county.org/health/wic/en/guides.htm for fitness guides geared to families and children of different ages. For comprehensive fitness information and tips for children and youths, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/children.html.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment