GOOD MEDICINE: Experts: As pandemic makes us less active, exercise is even more important

Kammi Anderson, left, and her dad, Curt Anderson, take their turns on the treadmill at Greenfield Fitness. “I’ve always told my girls to sweat and smile. That’s been my mantra,” Curt Anderson says of his daughters. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Six days a week, Curt Anderson and his daughter, Kammi, rise before dawn to make it into the gym by 6 a.m.

Rather than complain, Kammi — who recently turned 16 — has been relishing the early-morning workouts with her dad since she was about 10 years old.

Anderson, a longtime member at Greenfield Fitness, has always stressed the importance of nutrition and exercise to his three daughters, two of whom are now adults.

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“I’ve always told my girls to sweat and smile. That’s been my mantra,” he said.

The Greenfield family’s fitness commitment might be the exception rather than the rule.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing effects will likely increase obesity rates in children and adults this year, said Joel Hungate, director of the three Hancock Health Wellness Centers in Hancock County.

“When coupling the established obesity rates with greater food insecurity and isolation due to the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine the rates improving,” he said.

Virtual learning could also be having a negative impact on students’ health this year, decreasing the amount of physical exercise many students get each day. On home learning days, many students do their schoolwork while resting on the couch, rather than walking from class to class or enjoying recess with friends.

Many virtual learners might also have unrestricted access to unhealthy food and snacks, something they don’t have at school. Plus, millions of caregivers nationwide have lost jobs or income, making it more challenging for many to access healthy foods.

All that could be bad news in terms of childhood obesity, said Hungate, who is looking to add even more youth-focused programming at the Hancock Wellness Centers.

Fitness experts at the centers encourage children to “move better, move more, move early and move often,” but the best way to enforce those ideals is at home, he said.

The main key is making exercise fun, said Anderson, who has coached his girls in a number of sports over the years.

“If you can make something fun, then they’ll want to do it more,” he said. “It’s kind of like sneaking your medicine in with sugar. They’re getting good medicine, but they don’t know it if they’re having fun.”

Anderson has always stressed the benefits of health and fitness to his daughters. “You feel better when you work out. You release those endorphins, and it gives you confidence. Plus it’s good for kids to see their parents active and healthy,” he said.

Emily Logan, who chairs the physical education and health department at Greenfield-Central High School, couldn’t agree more.

“Teaching kids these lessons early makes your job as a parent so much easier,” she said. “If your kids start out eating healthy and staying active, it becomes their normal.”

Schools start teaching about healthy eating and activity in elementary school, she said, and the curriculum builds through junior high and high school, “but there’s nothing better than learning these skills at home.”

Hungate encourages the public to reach out to the wellness centers or the Healthy365 Connections Center for resources on how to address fitness.

No matter where children exercise, he encourages families to get active often, even if it’s at home.

Youth ages 6 through 17 should do 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That includes both aerobic exercise like running and jumping and strength-building exercise like climbing and push-ups.

Being together while self-isolating at home can be the perfect time to start establishing or strengthening those healthy habits as a family, Hungate said.

“When they see you are committed to being healthy and active and to eating as well as you can, it will really pay off in the long run,” said the fitness expert and father of three.

“You need to prioritize healthy nutrition and exercise and make space for it in your kids’ lives now, so it doesn’t become costly and burdensome for them down the road,” he said.

Logan suggests offering screen time like video games as a reward for completing a daily workout, or incorporating apps to help kids track their nutrition and exercise.

“There are so many apps out there for fitness, and so many of those are free. You can track your activity and food and water intake, and create groups or competition with others to keep things exciting and have goals to attain,” said the swimming and diving coach, who also recommends the use of personal fitness trackers like Fitbits.

Families can consider creating incentive programs for kids to track their activity, and do fun family activities like walks or workouts and track the activity together.

Anderson said there’s no greater reward than seeing your child pick up healthy habits they’ll hopefully carry throughout their lifetime. Plus, “working out together is a great way to spend quality time with your kids.”

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To learn more about combating childhood obesity, check out the following resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Obesity Action Coalition

World Health Organization

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Study ranks Indiana 16th in the nation for overweight kids and says one in seven children in the country are obese. Page A6

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Hancock County recorded 55 new infections of COVID-19 on Monday, Dec. 7, according to data posted Tuesday, Dec. 8, on the state dashboard.

The new cases brought the county’s total number of infections to 3,569.

No new deaths were reported. A total of 67 Hancock County residents have died of complications from COVID-19.

Statewide, deaths have topped 6,100. A total of 124 deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the state toll to 6,109.

A total of 5,457 new infections were reported statewide early Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 392,663.

The rate of positive tests for first-time screenings also continues to be high. Hancock County’s positivity rate was nearly 24%. The state’s positivity rate topped 27%.