EXTENSION: Family exercise helps 4-H youth stay healthy for life

May 17—As warmer spring weather arrives in Kentucky, it's a great time for families to stay healthy and active while enjoying the outdoors together. If you need some extra inspiration to get started with a new family fitness routine, your local 4-H program is here to help.

It probably comes as no surprise that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physically active youth have higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, lower body fat, and stronger bones and muscles than their inactive peers. School-aged children also experience a noted boost to their brain health from physical activity: namely, improved cognition and reduced symptoms of depression. Research shows that physical activity can improve cognitive functions associated with memory, executive function, processing speed, attention, and academic performance.

Kids who get regular exercise also have better odds of becoming healthy adults. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis are rare among young people. However, obesity and other risk factors for these diseases, including elevated insulin, blood lipids, and blood pressure, are on the rise among today's children and adolescents. In 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that more than one in five U.S. adolescents (22 percent) were considered obese.

But making regular exercise a part of family life can give young people a head start on disease prevention and introduce healthy benefits to last a lifetime.

Empowering youth to be healthy—in body and mind—is an important part of the programming provided through 4-H. Young people who have the confidence and skills to lead healthy lifestyles don't just feel healthier; they are also better able to tackle life's challenges and demonstrate strong leadership in their lives, careers, and communities as they grow up to become responsible adults. According to a 2015 study by researchers from Clemson University, Tufts University, the University of Washington, and Boston College, youth who participate in 4-H Positive Youth Development programming are twice as likely to make healthier choices for themselves.

One fun and easy way for 4-H families to get more physically active right now is by participating in Move the Clover Way, a family-based physical activity program held this year from May through June. Families can take part by planning to engage in physical activity for a set amount of time each week, and then logging those active minutes online. Participating families will be recognized for their accomplishments.

To learn more about Move the Clover Way and 4-H Healthy Living programs, contact the Laurel County Extension Service at 864-4167 or email Elizabeth Easley at Elizabeth.easley@uky.edu.