MAY 22, 2019 — One square foot of dirt sounds like a small amount of space, but children at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center in the Mat-Su Valley are making the most of it. Children at the center are growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in their own one square-foot garden box.
“Children plant different types of seeds in their own little gardens, water daily, and watch their seeds grow,” said Natalie Ray, the founder and director of Ray’s. The children love to show off their plants and get excited about them, and that enthusiasm is shared by the parents.
“Parents think it’s wonderful,” Ray said. “Even if they don’t do it themselves, they want their kids to experience it.”
Ray has been doing “Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE)” long before it became popular. She’s added gardening to her lesson plans for over 30 years. Farm to ECE activities include gardening, purchasing local foods, and teaching kids about food and agriculture. Farm to ECE activities match many of the goals of child care providers, including providing hands-on learning, engaging parents and community, and developing life-long healthy habits.
In addition to the square-foot garden the children tend, Ray also planted a larger edible garden for them to explore. She includes plants that are culturally important to Alaska Native people and can be harvested in the wild, like raspberries and fireweed.
Ray takes advantage of Alaska’s Farm to School program through the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture. The Farm to School program provides Alaska-focused resources and grant opportunities that can help child care providers with their Farm to ECE experiences. Ray has received several grants to help build raised garden beds, buy child-size shovels for little kids to use in their gardens, and purchase a food dehydrator to dry some of their harvested produce.
Efforts to educate kids don’t just happen in the garden. Ray’s students also take field trips to local farms and host farmers in the classroom. Ray also ties in gardening and healthy foods into other lessons, including art and reading.
“Farm to ECE activities set up young children for a lifetime of healthy habits,” said Johanna Herron with the Alaska Division of Agriculture. “It helps kids develop an appreciation for local food; knowledge of good food choices; and a connection to their environment, land, and their community.”
When it’s time to harvest at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center, the kids enjoy some vegetables right off the plants. They add other vegetables to their meals. Serving the harvest helps kids see the complete cycle of the garden, from the seed to the table.
Ray continues to expand the center’s Farm to ECE program by adding composting, hydroponic gardening during the winter season, and using fish fertilizer. Ray said she wants the kids attending her center to understand where food comes from, because knowing that can empower them to take care of their health.
For more information on the Division of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, check out their website at www.farmtoschoolalaska.org. Sign up for the program’s newsletter or call (907) 745-7200.
MAY 1, 2019 — “Do you want a soda with that?”
Would you say “yes” if you knew that added up to 250 extra calories to your meal?
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know about those extra calories right away, when you’re making the decision about what to order?
Starting this May, that information will be right there for you.
Larger chain restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores selling prepared foods will now be posting calorie counts on their menus, menu boards or on signs next to food so consumers can make informed, healthier choices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires these types of eating establishments to post calorie information right next to food items on the restaurant menus or signs in stores.
“It’s hard to guess how many calories are found in restaurant foods. It’s usually a lot more than people think,” said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “Having the calories listed on the menu can help people who want to maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of diet-related disease make an informed decision about what to eat.”
Providing nutrition facts where people make decisions about what to eat and buy can lead to healthier choices and improve what restaurants offer. In addition to the calorie count on the menu, restaurants must also provide other nutrition information upon request, such as fat content, carbohydrates, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar, fiber and protein. All of this information makes it easier to know which foods and drinks are the lower-calorie, healthier choices when ordering fast food, grabbing prepared foods from a grocery store salad bar, or ordering pasta at a chain restaurant.
“Alaska ranks in the top ten for highest adult obesity rates in the U.S., so I think menu labeling holds a lot of potential for impact,” said Dr. Leslie Redmond, a registered dietetian nutritionist and associate professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage. “I think it’s encouraging to see widespread efforts such as menu labeling being enforced to help educate consumers and support them in making healthier food and beverage choices. It may seem like a small thing, but even small changes can help nudge people towards healthier behaviors.”
Here’s how you can use the information to make better food and drink choices:
- Choose a grilled chicken sandwich at 380 calories instead of a fried chicken sandwich at 570 calories.
- Drink water and sparkling water with no calories instead of a sugary drink, which can range from 140 calories to 250 calories, depending on the serving size.
- Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side to help reduce added calories.
- Ask your server for nutrition information on the menu item you’re thinking about ordering. That will help you find out how much sodium, saturated fat or fiber is in your meal.
- Check out the calories of the supersized meal before ordering. The extra hamburger patty, slice of cheese or French fries adds a lot of extra calories. Choose the smaller bag of fries, or even a small salad if it’s available, to reduce calories in your meal.
For more information, check out a short FDA video called “Calories Count.” The video is focused on the new menu labeling law and recommendations for eating and drinking healthy options at restaurants.
APRIL 16, 2019 — Alaska has long winters and challenging weather, but that doesn’t stop kids from going outside to play for gym, recess and sports. Unfortunately, what does stop kids is not owning proper gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear. Some Alaska kids are coming to school with shoes duct-taped to their feet. They’re not wearing jackets because they don’t own jackets.
That’s where The Basics steps in. PE teachers, coaches, nurses and other faculty at schools make the request for their students in need, and The Basics fills the order. Over the years, it has helped thousands of kids in school districts across Alaska play at recess, join school sports teams, participate in gym class and otherwise look forward to any type of physical activity during their day. But even more than that, The Basics has helped keep these kids’ feet and bodies warm, dry, and comfortable, in and out of school.
The Basics is an Alaska-based nonprofit organization started by Pamela Skogstad, a physical education specialist with over 25 years of experience adapting PE for children of all abilities in Alaska’s public school system. During her career, Skogstad’s idea of The Basics began while working in Title 1 schools with low-income families.
“My colleagues and I would use our own money to purchase shoes for children in need and realized the high demand,” she said. During the first year of The Basics, the group raised enough money for 150 pairs of shoes for children in need in Anchorage.
“The next year it took off, and this is our eighth year,” Skogstad said. The Basics has provided more than 9,000 pairs of shoes — including gym shoes and sports and winter gear — in seven school districts that include Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai and Sitka.
The group’s mission is to empower children in need to choose healthy, active lifestyles by supporting them with the proper shoes and gear. The Basics relies on online donations, individuals’ donations of shoes and clothing, and annual fundraisers. The group just received a grant to create an online system that will make it easier for schools to order items and help the organization know if it is meeting kids’ needs.
This nonprofit organization gives kids opportunities they didn’t have because they lacked the right pair of shoes or boots.
“We were contacted by a coach about a student who dreamed of playing football but didn’t have a pair of shoes to practice or compete on the field,” Skogstad said. “We purchased a pair of football shoes and had them delivered to the coach. We learned this past October that this student excelled in football, became a star athlete, and received an athletic scholarship and eventually attended college.”
A pair of girls wanting to be part of a team showed the true meaning of friendship by sharing a pair of cross country ski boots — rotating each practice and sitting out every other race just so they could both participate.
Coaches, teachers, nurses and The Basics staff worked behind the scenes to find a pair of ski boots for these girls. The Basics delivered the boots to the school office and the coach privately gave them to the girls so they could both continue participating in practices and races. All donations made through The Basics are confidential.
Since August, The Basics has delivered more than 700 pairs of gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear to over 17 schools in the Mat-Su Valley. Just recently, the Mat-Su Borough School District received 12 pairs of shoes to support 12 students joining a baseball team. Even more gear went to schools in Kenai, Dillingham and Anchorage.
The Basics is growing and has established a storage and distribution facility in the Palmer area. The organization will continue to grow and plans to build a distribution facility on the Kenai Peninsula, too. Sports-specific shoes (such as shoes for track, baseball, soccer and softball) are in demand this spring. By supporting kids with the proper gym shoes, athletic shoes and winter gear, The Basics is removing limitations for children and helping them participate in all kinds of healthy activities.
Contact The Basics if you’re in the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai, or Sitka school districts and know of students who need proper gym shoes, sports shoes or winter gear. If you are interested in your school district receiving donated shoes, clothing and gear, contact Skogstad, the president of the nonprofit organization.
Photograph courtesy of The Basics
APRIL 2, 2019 — When school lets out this week, dozens of young girls in Sitka are going to start warming up. They’re going to run, pacing themselves and setting goals for completed laps. They’re practicing for something big.
On May 18, 2019, this Girls on the Run team will finish a Community 5K Fun Run that takes them along Sitka’s harbor and ends among the spruce, hemlock and towering totem poles of Sitka National Historic Park.
But they’re really practicing for something even bigger, said coach Shadeed Miller. They’re building skills for the rest of their lives.
Some of those skills set them up for a lifetime of fitness and a better chance for physical health. But other skills set these girls up for the other key ingredients of well-rounded health that go beyond the physical, to social and emotional growth.
“I want them to have a sense of pride in themselves, in each other and community,” said Miller, who works for Sitkans Against Family Violence. He said he hopes these girls discover their “limitless potential.”
Girls on the Run is a national program that promotes physical activity while also empowering girls, Miller said. During the course of the three-month program, Girls on the Run focuses on helping girls build confidence, strength of character, and positive connections with others; care and show compassion for others; improve their competence in many areas; and contribute to their community, Miller said. Sixteen communities across Alaska are participating in the program this year, said Natalie Watson, coordinator for Girls on the Run of Greater Alaska. Sitka’s 11th season started in February and ends with the Fun Run in May. This year, 33 third- through fifth-grade Sitka girls are participating. There’s a cost for the season, but Miller stressed there’s also a scholarship program funded by Sitka organizations and individuals to ensure money doesn’t stand in the way of any girl who wants to participate.
Play Every Day features the Sitka Girls on the Run Team in its newest video that shows the fun ways kids across Alaska play every day in all seasons and every kind of weather: snow, cold temperatures, sun, and in the case of Sitka — often rain. In this video, the Sitka girls run through the Sitka national park, past totem poles and across a finish line where their friends are ready for high-fives and congratulations.
During the Girls on the Run season, practice begins each afternoon with discussions about what the girls think of themselves, as well as issues they may be facing socially, such as gossiping and bullying. The program helps girls learn how to be intentional with their decisions, choose to be happy, feel good about themselves, and stand up for themselves and others, Miller said. It helps them strengthen their physical abilities and complete their final challenge: the Community 5K Fun Run through nature.
“If you literally take one step after the next and put good intention into it, you can change so much of your life — and for the better,” Miller said.
Taking one step after another through nature is something Miller knows firsthand, and he uses that as an example with the girls when they’re struggling.
In 2016, Miller said he chose to step away from his job at the time and challenge himself in a different way. Even though he hadn’t camped since he was a Boy Scout, he started hiking and camping along the entire Appalachian Trail in April 2016. He started in Georgia and walked 2,189 miles through 14 states, ending in Maine on September 25, 2016. He started walking all by himself, but along the way met hikers who walked with him much of the time. His personal experience became social. These hikers finished together and remain friends for life, he said.
“All I was doing was walking, each and every day,” Miller said. But that commitment to walking changed him physically, mentally and emotionally. It forced him to listen to his body and how he was feeling, he said.
When he’s running with the Girls on the Run, he listens for any shred of doubt from the young participants.
"'Hey, you are moving forward,’” he tells them. ”'And that’s all that counts.’”
He tells them about what it took to complete an almost six-month hike. He looks first for that disbelief on their faces, and then the realization that they got this — just like he did.
"'Ok,’” the girls realize. "'I can do this.’”
Sitka: Mark May 18, 2019, on your calendars, because 33 girls are going to do this, and you can be there to cheer them on.
MARCH 22, 2019 — Over Spring Break, cooks at child care centers around Alaska came to Anchorage to sharpen their culinary and math skills with help from the Institute of Child Nutrition. They learned best practices and developed skills for providing nutritious meals for young children.
The Institute trainers included a math teacher and a professional chef. They offered “Culinary Math” as a one-day training and “Healthy Cuisine for Kids” as a two-day training. Both provided classroom and hands-on experiences for learning culinary math, nutrition and healthful cooking methods.
The Institute is a federally-funded national center dedicated to research, education and training for child nutrition programs. Participants who took the training this spring used math and food preparation techniques to produce lots of healthy, tasty dishes designed to appeal to young children. Those dishes included “Tuscan Quinoa Salad,” “Porcupine Sliders,” and a class favorite: “Roasted Fish & Crispy Slaw Wraps.” Destiny Ritter, a food service specialist in Kodiak, learned to make a cheese sauce for “Chić Penne,” a healthier version of macaroni and cheese.
“The trick is to let the sauce cool before adding the cheese, so it’s not grainy,” Ritter said.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) Child Nutrition Programs received a grant to offer the trainings to cooks who work with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The CACFP provides healthy meals and snacks to children and adults receiving day care. It plays a vital role in improving the quality of day care and making healthy meals more affordable for low-income families.
“Child care center directors have been requesting cooks’ training to assist their staff in understanding and meeting the CACFP meal patterns,” said Ann-Marie Martin, Alaska CACFP program coordinator. “Sometimes cooks come to a center with very little culinary training, so this is an opportunity to gain skill development and resources to provide healthier options for the children in care. DEED is very excited to be able to fill this need by utilizing USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grant funds.”
Math skills are helpful for adjusting recipes and following the CACFP meal patterns. Isaiah Conley, a cook with the Anchorage Boys & Girls Club, said he enjoyed the math sessions.
“I learned how to break down recipes, like how many grains are in that snack so we’re following the CACFP rules,” Conley said.
This training helps cooks from early child care centers across Alaska come together in small groups and receive additional support from knowledgeable trainers. Sydney Hinkley, a cook with the Children’s Lunchbox in Anchorage, said the training helps her try new recipes, as well as learn from cooks at other child care centers.
“It’s a chance to compare notes,” Hinkley said.
“Culinary Math” and “Healthy Cuisine for Kids” will be offered in Alaska six times in the next two years. The DEED grant provides funding to help cooks from 54 communities travel to Anchorage or Fairbanks to participate. For more information about the classes, contact Ann-Marie Martin at (907) 465-8771 or email@example.com.
In the photograph above: Brenda Marquez from Dutch Harbor and Mikal McGlashan from Sand Point prepare “Lentils of the Southwest.”
FEBRUARY 26, 2019 —For years, our partner Healthy Futures has been recognizing children’s commitment to daily physical activity with monthly prizes.
Now, a local group of pediatricians is adding another level of recognition for these active Alaska kids.
The Children’s Clinic, a pediatric clinic in Anchorage since 1970, is encouraging their elementary school-age patients to participate in the free, school-based Healthy Futures Challenge. Patients in participating elementary schools can bring their completed Healthy Futures physical activity log to the clinic, show it to their pediatrician or nurse, and receive a special prize to celebrate that activity. The clinic will even accept the log as a faxed or emailed copy. These Anchorage pediatricians also are opening up the challenge to children who attend schools that are not yet signed up for the Healthy Futures Challenge. The child can download the physical activity log, fill it out for the month and turn it in to the clinic for a prize.
Dr. Janet Shen, one of three pediatricians at The Children’s Clinic, said she thought it was a great idea for doctors to recognize the physical activity their young patients are doing.
“This is exactly what we want you to do,” Shen said. Getting kids moving can encourage the rest of the family to be physically active, too, she said.
“With this growing epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, I think any time we can encourage healthy habits from a young age, hopefully we can play a role in promoting long-term health,” she said.
“It will be something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.”
Healthy Futures, a nonprofit program run through the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, offers two physical activity challenges in elementary schools each school year: one in the fall and the second in the spring. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health. The challenge is free to schools and students. Students who successfully log their physical activity each month of the challenge win Healthy Futures prizes, which have included water bottles, jump ropes, and other prizes that promote activity.
The Children’s Clinic — which cares for about 5,500 patients — now adds a second level of recognition for active children. Patients who completed an activity log for February will receive a glow-in-the-dark wristband that says “I’m an action hero.” This band will go along with the wristbands that Healthy Futures gives to participating students this school year. Future prizes from The Children’s Clinic will include a drawing to play at local gyms, such as rock gyms or trampoline playgrounds.
“I just have a passion for kids to be outside,” Shen said. “I try to tear them away from their screens to get them to be more physically active.”
Children — and their parents — are spending more and more time on their phones, tablets and devices, and this screen time pulls them away from being active, Shen said. Regular physical activity plus adequate sleep and a healthy diet can have benefits beyond physical health, including improved behavior, mental health and performance in the classroom, she said.
The Spring Healthy Futures Challenge continues through March and April this school year. It’s not too late for elementary schools to sign up and participate. This spring, about 150 schools across Alaska have signed up for the challenge. Principals or teachers can sign up their schools for the Healthy Futures Challenge using this simple online database. If you have questions about the Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures program coordinator, at (907) 360-6331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JANUARY 30, 2019 — Students and teachers at Alaska schools are getting ready for the next PLAAY Day — that day once a year when children complete a half hour of organized physical activity all at the same time in communities across the state.
The first PLAAY Day took place two years ago, and since then hundreds of children in schools from Aniak to Glennallen to Ketchikan have participated. The third annual PLAAY Day is set for Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019. Alaska schools can sign up now using a simple online database.
PLAAY stands for Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth. Our partners, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and Healthy Futures program, are running PLAAY Day to help Alaska children get active for good health.
“This is a shared experienced about really connecting kids in different places,” said Wally Wilson, director of PLAAY events for the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Schools have been signing up across Alaska, as well as in other parts of the country like Connecticut and Washington, D.C., Wilson said.
This year, participating children will be doing the physical activities of superheroes, nationally recognized athletes and former presidents. Kids will do the motions of cross country skate skiing, in honor of Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall. They’ll do the motions of a balance beam walk like Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas. They’ll pretend to complete a slap shot like Stanley Cup winning hockey player Scott Gomez. These athletes and leaders are role models for Alaska’s students — putting the emphasis on choosing healthy physical activities.
“It’s cool to be healthy,” Wilson said.
PLAAY Day will begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 21, with students from the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation leading a room of Anchorage-based children in the fun session of activities. They’ll be demonstrating the activities at the Special Olympics Alaska building in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage. GCI and Denali Media will be broadcasting that demonstration live to participating schools using free videoconferencing technology. That will allow children across Alaska to join along and complete the half hour of physical activity in their own gyms, classrooms, recreation centers and common spaces. All children will be able to participate at their appropriate levels. Physical activities included during PLAAY Day will be able to be modified and adapted to include students of all abilities, said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Schools and organizations across Alaska will participate in PLAAY Day live by streaming through Facebook and YouTube Live. Schools that sign up for PLAAY Day will receive more information about the event as the date gets closer. Interested schools and groups can register as an entire school, a classroom, a home school, or an organization.
Right after PLAAY Day concludes, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame will run the PLAAY Summit on Feb. 22 and 23, 2019, at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. The theme of the 2019 PLAAY events is “Exercise Leadership.” The Summit will feature experts from around the state who will help teachers, parents, nurses, coaches, administrators and other leaders address many areas of youth and adolescent health, including psychological, social and emotional development. The summit will focus on physical activity as a way to improve health. The keynote speaker this year is Dr. Michael Yogman, a Boston-area pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Yogman recently published an article called “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.” This article focuses on the importance of play in healthy youth development.
People in remote locations across Alaska will be able to participate in the summit through videoconferencing. Professional development credits for school district employees, credit hours for nurses, and social work continuing education units (CEUs) will be available to participants.
Many organizations are partners of PLAAY Day and PLAAY Summit. They include Healthy Futures; the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium; GCI and Denali Media; Special Olympics Alaska; the Anchorage School District; University of Alaska Anchorage; clinics and hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital at Providence, Alaska Center for Pediatrics, LaTouche Pediatrics, the Children’s Clinic and Alaska Pediatric Therapy; the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; the Play Every Day campaign; Bristol Bay Native Corporation; the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; and businesses, such as Kaladi Brothers Coffee, Moose’s Tooth, the Alaska Club, the Dome and Skinny Raven Sports.
To learn more about PLAAY Day or the PLAAY Summit, contact Wilson at email@example.com or Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photograph courtesy of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame
January 8, 2019 — Play Every Day’s partner, the Healthy Futures program, is extending the sign-up period for the Spring 2019 Challenge so more elementary schools can participate in the physical activity challenge that runs Feb. 1 through April 30.
Every school year, Healthy Futures runs a fall and spring physical activity challenge that is free for elementary schools and students. During the challenge, students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health. The Healthy Futures program awards prizes to K-6 students who log their physical activity and turn in those logs at the end of each month. The state’s Play Every Day campaign continues to work with Healthy Futures to support the challenge in elementary schools across Alaska and encourage children to build the healthy habit of daily activity.
The Healthy Futures program typically starts in December — a couple months ahead of time — to sign up schools for the Spring Challenge. This year, however, schools in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough were closed in early December so school district staff could assess damage from the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake and make repairs as needed. Healthy Futures started registering schools for the Spring Challenge in December, but decided to extend registration this month so more schools could participate.
"We wanted to be as supportive and accommodating as possible with teachers and schools dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake,” said Harlow Robinson, Healthy Futures executive director. “Extending the deadline hopefully gives our partners and teachers time to focus on recovery before looking ahead to the Spring Challenge."
As of this week, more than 120 elementary schools have signed up for the Spring 2019 Challenge. During a typical challenge, between 150 to 200 elementary schools across the state sign up to participate. You can go online to see if your school is already signed up for the Spring Challenge. If your school isn’t signed up yet, the principal or a teacher at the school can sign up for free using this simple online database.
If you have questions about signing up for the Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures program coordinator, at (907) 360-6331 or email@example.com.
The school day had started in Utqiaġvik, and the thermometer read minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It had been in the negative degrees during the entire school week, but that’s typical in December in the northernmost Alaska — and U.S. — community with about 4,500 residents. The day stayed dark and then dim from morning until night. The sun doesn’t rise midwinter this far north of the Arctic Circle.
And yet, the youngest kids in Utqiaġvik could still play every day. That’s because they attend a school that has done something unique. Inside its heated school building, Fred Ipalook Elementary has an entire school playground that most of us are used to seeing outdoors instead. The playground includes jungle gyms, slides, ladders, basketball hoops and open space. The elementary students in Utqiaġvik love to use the indoor playground, said Monica Lugo, physical education teacher at Fred Ipalook Elementary. It’s open to them every day of the school year during normal recess time, extra recess sessions and as a reward for demonstrating good behavior at school.
“There really is no excuse for them to get no activity,” Lugo said.
Having playgrounds that make it possible to play in any weather helps Alaska children meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published updated guidelines in November 2018, but the recommendation for school-age children remained the same: For the best health, these children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Kids can get that activity through recess, physical education class, and activities before and after school.
Lugo said Fred Ipalook Elementary does have outdoor playgrounds to support physical activity, but they aren’t used as much as the indoor playground during cold, snowy months. Sometimes the snow is piled so high that the slide can’t be used. Other times, students don’t bring the right clothing to play in below zero temperatures.
“Not all the kids bring the gear that’s heavy enough, or they forget gloves or hats,” Lugo said.
Other Alaska communities face different types of weather challenges when it comes to playing outside. Petersburg in Southeast Alaska is one example. The community of about 3,000 residents has many rainy days. The rain doesn't stop Stedman Elementary students from playing outside, however, because the outside playground has a roof that covers basketball hoops, four square games and other areas for play.
"We don't hold kids in for rain," said Ginger Evens, wellness team member and teacher for the Petersburg School District.
"Anybody can play, anywhere.”
Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.
Do you want to prevent cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, injuries and unhealthy weight gain? Do you want to sleep better and improve your ability to think, reason and remember? If you do, move more and sit less.
That’s the recommendation shared in the new Second Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in November 2018.
“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health,” wrote Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the guidelines. “…The scientific evidence continues to build — physical activity is linked with even more positive health outcomes than we previously thought. And, even better, benefits can start accumulating with small amounts of, and immediately after doing, physical activity.”
Physical activity can improve physical and mental health, as well as academics. For children in elementary and middle school, the guidelines say that regular activity improves memory, attention and performance in the classroom. Activity improves mental health by reducing children’s and adults’ risk of depression. For older adults, regular activity can cut the risk of falling and suffering injuries from falls. Just one session of physical activity can reduce your anxiety and even improve your sleep that night.
While the guidelines recommend that adults move at least 150 minutes a week and school-age children move 60 minutes a day, that might be more than you and your family can do right now.
“Do what you can,” the guidelines state. “Even 5 minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.”
While regular activity can improve health in many ways and lower the risk for common chronic diseases that last a lifetime, most Alaska adults, youth and children do not meet the recommendations for activity. Nearly 4 out of 5 Alaska adults and teenagers don’t get enough aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity during the week.
Looking for a quick summary of the guidelines? Read the Top 10 Things to Know online. The recently updated Physical Activity Guidelines share new recommendations supported by science.
Immediate benefits for how people feel, function and sleep
According to the guidelines, just one session of physical activity can reduce anxiety, improve memory, lower blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. The guidelines confirm that activity can improve quality of sleep for adults. It can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and can increase the amount of time in deep sleep. It also can cut down on daytime sleepiness.
Risks of not being physically active
For the best health, adults need to move more. Increased time in low-levels of activity — like sitting, lying down, or watching TV or some other type of digital screen — is linked with increased risk for death, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer, the guidelines state.
For the most health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous activity each week. Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Moderate activity includes anything that gets your heart beating faster, such as biking, hiking, recreational swimming or raking the yard. Jogging, running, carrying heavy groceries or shoveling snow are examples of vigorous activities.
Importance of encouraging physical activity early in life
Parents and caregivers should help children ages 3–5 be active throughout the day. The guidelines state this regular activity will improve their growth, development and bone strength, and help them grow up at a healthy weight.
The guidelines continue to recommend that older children ages 6–17 play every day for 60 minutes or more. This should include a mix of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities.
Short bursts of activity bring benefits
The new guidelines stress that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. The previous edition of the guidelines stated that only 10-minute sessions of activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. The new edition removes this requirement and encourages people to move more frequently throughout the entire day.
For more information about the importance of physical activity, visit the Active People, Healthy Nation website.