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A sporting chance

Camps help kids get physical and stay that way

It's 11:15 a.m. and Mitch Bisbee's senior gym class is filing out of a school bus at the Glenway Country Club. For the next nine days, students from Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School in Newmarket, Ontario will spend an hour and 20 minutes every day at the club, playing squash. "We try to introduce our students to sports and activities that they can do throughout their life," Bisbee says.

That's just what Sari-Anne Staniewski, Glenway's program director, was thinking when she spearheaded the program 10 years ago. As head of Glenway's summer camps, Staniewski tries to find ways to keep kids and teens active both during the summer and long after camp is over. One strategy was to open up Glenway -- a private club -- to surrounding schools to give students a chance to play sports most schools don't offer or find too expensive to include. The program has been wildly successful, with schools as far as 90 minutes away coming to use the club's eight tennis courts, five squash courts, outdoor heated pool and 18-hole golf course.

As well, Staniewski gives everyone who attends a Glenway summer day camp a free week membership to the club for anytime during the following year. Yet despite her efforts (and those of many others) to get kids active, Staniewski knows a troubling trend is brewing: not only are kids getting heavier, they are doing so younger and younger.

"We are losing the battle against fast-food chains and multimedia," says Mark Tremblay, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan and Canada's leading obesity researcher. On average, Canadian children and teens watch more than 23 hours of television a week and are sedentary for two-thirds of their waking hours.

Heath Canada recommends children keep active for 30 minutes or more a day, but Ontario kinesiologist Douglas Lafreniere says less than one quarter of children and teens get enough activity in a week to reap any health benefits.

It's no wonder two million Canadian children are now overweight, or that half of those children are considered obese, according to Statistics Canada. Since obese children become obese adults, the consequences of this trend are as disturbing as the facts themselves. Pediatricians are already seeing a rise in childhood hyperlipidemia (increase of fats in the bloodstream), hypertension and Type 2 diabetes -- illnesses once common only to adults -- as well as respiratory and liver disease, arthritis and orthopedic problems.

The mental health of kids is also at risk. Researchers at Duke University Medical School in North Carolina found obese boys were nearly four times more likely to be depressed than their thinner peers. And Dr. Julie Lumeng, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found children who have significant behaviour problems are nearly three times as likely to be overweight than not.

What can parents do? From camp counsellors to pediatricians, the message is clear: Get your kids active. And what better way than in summer activities and programs as diverse as children's interests.

For kids who are already passionate about a particular sport, sports camps offer certified or licensed coaches and a low staff-to-camper ratio to ensure personal attention. These camps provide a great opportunity for kids to improve their skills and take their game to the next level. Hockey enthusiasts as young as four can learn how to puck-handle, pass and power skate like a professional at Toronto's Canadian Pro Hockey Clinic.

For keen or wannabe equestrians, The Horse People Inc. offers riding lessons twice a day plus a chance to learn tack cleaning, horse grooming and riding etiquette. Not to mention the morning and afternoon swims and evening camp activities like bonfires, square dancing and games. Located in the heart of the Ottawa Valley and surrounded by the Larose Forest, a nature reserve with magnificent trails, this camp is a hit with kids from as far away as Germany, France and Japan.

The Human Moves Day Camp in Toronto, Ontario provides programs for children and youth ages four to 16. Campers learn basic skills that they need to feel competent enough to participate in a wide range of physical activities and sports at camp and during the year. The camp includes a "core program" which requires each camper to take 30 minutes of swimming instruction daily, plus recreational gymnastics and track and field. According to the Human Moves philosophy, children who can swim, balance, tumble, run, jump and throw have a foundation for success in most sports.

But what if your child isn't athletic or has been burned by the highly competitive world of sport? Your best bet may be a more traditional camp, which provides what some call the "total camp experience."

These camps have everything from waterskiing, canoeing and riding to archery, dance and crafts. No one can be good at everything, so these camps offer every camper an opportunity to shine. Onondaga camp is a good example. Founded in 1918, and situated on a semi-private lake near Minden, Ontario, it's one of Canada's oldest residential camps. Girls and boys ages six to 16 get a chance to participate in more than 20 activities, while making friends, building self-reliance and learning new skills.

What's great about Onondaga and many other camps today is that they offer programs year-round. And that may be a key link to getting and keeping kids active.

For 13-year-old Stuart Russalo, it was his mom who first got him to go to Glenway. But it was Glenway that got him interested in tennis. "The instructors were great. And I thought it was fun," he says. Four years later, he's still playing tennis and is now enrolled in an intensive program that runs during the school year.

Yes, summer camps are about fun and friendships and learning new skills, but they're also about physical activity. That happy, healthy combination is what can help spark a lifelong interest and commitment in your child to stay active and stay well.




Here's the skinny on obesity on childhood obesity in Canada

overweight In 1981 15% of boys 15% of girls

overweight In 1996 28.8% of boys 23.6% of girls

Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal, November 2000




On the up and up

To become more active, Canada's Physical Activity Guides for Youth and Children (www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/child_youth) recommend increasing the time currently spent being physically active by at least 30 minutes more per day and decreasing "non-active" time spent on TV, computer games and the Internet by at least the same amount.




A country of couch potatoes

An alarming number of young Canadians don't get enough physical activity. An adequate amount, according to Health Canada, would be 30 minutes of vigorous activity per day plus one hour of moderate activity, for a total of 90 minutes.

Percentage of Children and Youth (ages five to 17) who are physically inactive

Alberta 57% British 48%Columbia Manitoba 47% New Brunswick 54% Newfoundland 61% Northwest 54%Territories Nova Scotia 52% Nunavut 56% Ontario 54% Prince Edward Island 54% Quebec 70% Saskatchewan 51% Yukon 51%

Source: Health Canada, 2002




Get active!

Moderate activity examples: brisk walking swimming playing outdoors

Vigorous activity examples: mountain biking soccer basketball
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