It’s time to lace up those sneakers, zip up that coat and head outside to play. The Healthy Futures Challenge begins this week with a brand new goal for thousands of Alaska kids:
To complete the Challenge, students will do at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
This fall, more than 180 Alaska elementary schools — including 61 elementary schools in the Anchorage School District — signed up for the free Healthy Futures Challenge. Participating kindergarten through sixth-grade students will hike, bike, jump, run, skate or ski their way to 60 minutes of activity a day. They can count their activity at recess, during gym class, and add in time before and after school and on weekends. If they hit the 60-minute mark at least half the days of the month and log their activity on a simple form, they will win prizes for each month of the Challenge.
It’s not too late for Alaska elementary schools to sign up for the Healthy Futures Challenge, which runs September, October and November. Principals or teachers can sign up their schools by visiting the Healthy Futures website this fall.
There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost physical activities around Alaska to help kids hit their 60-minute goal for the Challenge. Families in the Anchorage area can participate in the Tuesday Night Race series, which kicks off on Sept. 8 at Kincaid Park and ends Nov. 3. The series has races for all types of runners, including the youngest participants — called Munchkins — who run and walk a 1-3K course through the woods.
Here’s the schedule for upcoming Jamborees:
· Beach Lake Trails (Eagle River) Jamboree – Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the Chugiak High School soccer fields and trails starting at 5 p.m.
· South Anchorage Jamboree – Saturday, Sept. 19, at Service High School starting at 9:30 a.m.
· North Anchorage Jamboree – Monday, Sept. 21, at Bartlett High School starting at 5 p.m.
There are many more physical activity events scheduled all over Alaska. Visit the Healthy Futures calendar to find out what’s happening in your community.
Everyone knows the feeling. You can barely keep your eyes open, you keep forgetting things, your energy is low and the minutes take forever to pass — all signs that you didn’t get enough sleep.
With kids, though, inadequate sleep can look a lot different.
“It’s generally the opposite,” said Dr. Ross William Dodge, a pediatric sleep specialist at PEAK Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Anchorage. “If a 6-year-old misses a nap, they bounce off the walls. The presentation of sleep deprivation is hyperactivity, behavioral opposition — they don’t pay attention, they don’t listen, they don’t do well in school.”
A sleep deficit limits a child’s ability to cope with stress, solve problems and focus on school work, said Rita Kittoe, a public health nurse. An ongoing lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, a reduced ability to fight off colds, and aggressive or inappropriate behavior, she added.
“The body spends 20 to 30 years sleeping over the lifetime,” said Dr. Bill Lucht of the Alaska Sleep Clinic. “It’s not just an accident. Sleep conserves energy. It allows the processing of emotional content. It restores brain function and memory. It allows the body to replenish itself and do reparative work.”
Simply put, a chronic lack of sleep impacts all the body systems, said Dodge, and can create a constant state of inflammation that leads to the digestive system’s poor processing of food and a resulting craving for carbohydrates. The cycle continues when weight gain leads to insufficient sleep, and insufficient sleep to more weight gain.
The amount of sleep people need varies and changes with age, but the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that school-age children get at least 10 hours a day.
Nationally, between 30 percent and 40 percent of children have some consistent sleep-related complaint, Dodge said, and about 10 to 12 percent have some form of organic or physical sleep problem.
Inadequate sleep in kids can have lifelong health impacts. It affects their response time, as well as their ability to learn and make decisions — increasing the risk of accidents, said Lucht. The metabolic effects can lead to obesity and diabetes, he added, and people who don’t get enough sleep tend to have more social problems and lower incomes than those who do.
What’s a parent to do?
“It’s very, very basic what you do,” said Dodge. “Kids have a hard time when presented with multiple options. That’s where the parents need to set a bedtime routine that doesn’t vary. That doesn’t mean you have to set an alarm clock and have a rigorous schedule, but the general motions need to stay pretty set. Kids will fall into the routine themselves once it becomes a pattern in the household.”
(Photo: Dr. Ross Dodge)
It can take weeks for everyone in the house to adapt to new routines, but pushing through the hard part will reap great rewards for the entire family. If a child still has problems after following a healthy bedtime routine, talk to a pediatrician or sleep doctor. There could be a medical solution.
Keep in mind that some kids, such as extreme high performers and children with autism, Down syndrome or behavioral disorders, have higher rates of sleep disorders.
Sleep problems are worse now than ever before, said Dr. Lucht, which
“probably reflects the pressures of society, of constantly being in touch with work, of not being able to get away from the office.”
Don’t ignore the symptoms or wait until sleep problems become substantial. Set a bedtime routine and stick to it; create an environment where noise, light and other factors don’t get in the way of falling to sleep; and see a doctor if sleep problems continue after weeks of following a good routine.
Getting enough sleep doesn’t just make waking up easier; it prepares us for the challenges each day brings.
Learn more about how sleep impacts health at the National Sleep Foundation and the CDC.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Ross William Dodge.
Pamela Skogstad of Hope, Alaska, created a special ball.
She filled it with steel birdshot to give it sound. The weight made the ball roll slower, so it wouldn’t travel too far when kicked.
Just like that, she adapted a ball that shows just how easy and simple it can be to help children of all abilities get physically active.
For the past 25 years, Skogstad has worked with children in school districts all over Alaska to help physical education teachers and teacher assistants learn how to make physical activity possible for all children, regardless of their physical, emotional or social abilities. Adapting the ball is just one example.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Skogstad knew from a young age that there was a big demand for professionals to help children with disabilities get physically active. “I realized that — and it was really obvious — that kids with disabilities were excluded from activities and sports,” said Skogstad.
Why? Because teachers and teaching assistants do not have training in how to include children with disabilities in physical activity, she said, and if they do not have knowledge about disabilities, the expectation and need for play, and activities that should be avoided, it can be difficult and unsettling for them to include children with disabilities.
Skogstad, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in adaptive physical education, has partnered with the Alaska Health and Disability Program to visit school districts in Juneau, Fairbanks, Alaska Gateway, Barrow, Kodiak and other regions in Alaska to show PE teachers and teacher assistants how to modify physical activities to include all children. Children of all abilities, she said, benefit from physical activity. It’s all about understanding children’s needs and finding ways to make activity happen for them.
If the whole class is going for a walk, a student who uses a walker can still be involved. He may be able to walk only a quarter of the distance, but he’s still being active with his classmates and friends.
“That’s huge for this student,” Skogstad said.
Skogstad said teachers need to pay special consideration to weather. A child with spina bifida, a birth defect which affects the spinal cord, may have limited sensation of cold temperatures when playing outside.
“You have to really pay attention because they can get frostbite really easy,” Skogstad said.
Kids who struggle with sensory issues, such as children with autism, benefit from partnering with peers during physical activity, she said. Sometimes Skogstad works with children who have many health care needs, such as requiring a wheelchair, suctioning of the airway, and breathing with an oxygen tank.
“This student cannot tell you, ‘Man, it would really be great if I could just stretch my arms,’” she said, but stretching is exactly what that student needs. Skogstad can train PE teachers how to use large balls and other tools to help these children move.
Photo of Pam Skogstad with adapted ball, courtesy of Pam Skogstad.
Alaskans learn quickly that summers are short and it’s best to get out and enjoy the glorious days while we have them.
There are so many fun and healthy family activities that we lose count.
August, for example is “running month.” Mosquitoes are almost gone, cottonwoods have seeded, grass is still green and the clover is blooming along running trails.
Anchorage’s Big Wild Life Runs extend over several days from Aug. 13–15 with running events for all levels and ages, including a pasta feed, and inspiring clinics.
If you and your family are already into running, then you’re no doubt aware of the variety of runs available. But, if you are just getting into the occasional jog, and you would like to include your children in a healthy family activity, Big Wild Life Runs is just for you.
“Hundreds of kids come out for a chance to get some exercise, meet inspiring athletes in our community and participate in the Family Health and Safety Day on the Delaney Park Strip,” said Race Director Sharron Fisherman.
VIP guests this year are Jeff Galloway and Bart Yasso, and you can do a “run/walk” with them both mornings, Aug. 13 and 14, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Hotel Captain Cook Lobby, 939 W. Fifth Ave.
Galloway, a 1972 U.S. Olympian (10,000 meters), is a Runner’s World magazine columnist and has run for more than 50 years, over 30 without injury. Yasso is the Chief Running Officer (sounds like a great job!) for Runner’s World and has completed races on all seven continents.
Now for the main event on Aug. 15:
The Kids’ 2K (about 1.2 miles) fun run starts at the Delaney Park Strip near 9th Ave. and G St. at 9:30 a.m., followed by Family Health and Safety Day. Each kid receives a hat and a medal. The event is free, but all participants must register and receive their bibs before the start of the race. Parents may run with their kids and do not need to register. Sign up at ChronoTrack Live. Children must be 12 years of age or younger to participate.
There are too many great events and runs for teens and adults to list here – from the mile run to the 49K ultra – so find the one that fits your family and sign up now.
Photo courtesy Big Wild Life Runs
The forests, wetlands, and fields of Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks provide a remarkable space for witnessing the diversity of wild lands and wildlife while getting the family outside.
With 2,000 acres, 150 within the city of Fairbanks, the refuge includes accessible trails, bird viewing areas, interpretive materials, and the farmhouse and barns once occupied by the Interior’s largest dairy.
“There is a huge range of habitats in this small area,” said Christine Huff, executive director of Friends of Creamer’s Field, a nonprofit that runs camps, events, nature walks and other educational activities in the refuge. “It’s really a pretty unique place. Some people have likened it to Central Park. It’s a chance to feel like you’re getting into the wilderness for a little bit — there’s a whole lot here to see in such a small space.”
Depending on timing, you might see migratory birds, foxes, woodchucks, even a distant moose while wandering through forests with birch, aspen, poplar, tamarack, and spruce. Educational materials cover topics like the role of wildland fire, an explanation of permafrost, and an overview of some of the changes caused by people.
Last week, the refuge reopened the Boreal Forest Trail, which suffered damage during last year’s flooding. “We had so much rain last summer, and parts of our refuge are parts of old riverbed channels, so we have boardwalks that washed out,” explained Huff.
The trails only cover a small portion of the refuge but include an array of habitats from the boreal forest to wetlands and farm roads. Winter snow and ice make much more of the refuge accessible through 40 miles of multi-use trails created by the skijoring and mushing communities. Use of the trails is free.
Nature walks and other activities are free and take place all year, and virtually all activities focus on families and a full range of age groups.
Daily nature hikes will continue through the summer at 10 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, and then reduce to twice a week in September. Major events include the upcoming Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival August 28 – 30.
Find out more about the refuge programs and activities by perusing the website or calling (907) 452-5162, where you can also ask about tours of the dairy and current farming operations. You also can visit Friends of Creamer’s Field on Facebook.
Top photo by Herb Melchoir; bottom photo by Craig Dorman.
Courtesy of Friends of Creamer's Field.
Come summertime, Alaskans follow the salmon. They gear up and lean into their dip nets, haul out and toss in a line. When not looking to catch fish, they gather to celebrate summer’s nutritional bounty and bountiful light. During the Alaska Salmon Runs and Salmon Jam Music Festival in Cordova July 17 and 18, that means running, racing and kicking up heels, whether in sandals, sneakers, mud boots or bare feet.
The Salmon Runs include a king salmon marathon and sockeye half-marathon, along with shorter, faster courses that children can do, like the Humpy 5K and One Mile Smolt Run/Walk.
“What I love about this event is that it is indeed a day when kids and families come out and run together,” said Kristin Carpenter, race coordinator for Alaska Salmon Runs. “Often one parent will be running the marathon or half-marathon and the other parent will run the 5K with the kids.”
If the crowds come in like previous years, she expects about 40 kids to join the one-mile race this year and another 30 to 60 to run the 5K.
The races take place Saturday morning, but the festival starts Friday afternoon with a guided wild plant walk at 5 p.m., followed by art activities, music and the Copper River salmon cook-off at 6 p.m. The featured bands include Aloha Bluegrass, the Railsplitters, the Builders and the Butchers, plus a slew of opening acts.
The weekend is definitely kid friendly, said Cathy Long, the producer of the Salmon Jam and Copper River Wild Salmon Festival. Kid activities include face painting, fish printing, casting practice and more, plus family dancing, running and playing outside.
Photo credit: Chelsea Haisman
Your kids come in from playing outside. They’re hot, sweaty and thirsty. What do you give them to quench their thirst? Fruit-flavored drinks? Sport drinks?
How about water?
Water and a healthy snack is all your children need to recover from physical activity. Sports drinks, juice drinks and sweetened flavored water are loaded with sugar that your kids don’t need.
Many parents mistakenly believe that some drinks with high amounts of added sugar — especially fruit drinks, sports drinks and sweetened flavored water — are healthy options for children, according to a recent study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. The center’s study is featured in an article by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
It’s no surprise some parents are confused by these sugary drinks. This confusion is related to the way these drinks are marketed, using labels that say the drinks are all natural, they contain vitamins, replenish electrolytes, and are necessary for hydration – even when they are high in unhealthy amounts of sugar. Sports drinks, on average, contain about 9 teaspoons of sugar per 20 ounce bottle.
“Although most parents know that soda is not good for children, many still believe that other sugary drinks are healthy options. The labeling and marketing for these products imply that they are nutritious, and these misperceptions may explain why so many parents buy them,” said Jennifer Harris, PhD, a study author and the Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center. Harris was quoted in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation article.
The misunderstanding of the large amount of sugar in sports drinks, juice drinks and sweetened flavored water inspired the Play Every Day campaign to create a new TV Public Service Announcement that shows how to find added sugars on the ingredient list. If sugar or another sweetener is listed in the first three ingredients, the drink is loaded with sugar. Play Every Day is producing a new PSA and related posters that focus on the high amount of sugar in sports drinks to post in schools. The main message is “Just because kids play sports, doesn’t mean they need sports drinks.” Water is the best option for rehydrating when you get out and play.
The recent Rudd Center survey found that 96 percent of participating parents gave sugary drinks to their child during the previous month. Play Every Day surveyed hundreds of Alaska parents of young children during 2014 and learned that 65 percent of Alaska parents served their child sugary drinks during the past week. In both surveys, fruit drinks and sodas were the sugary drinks most often served. Other common sugary drinks provided by parents included sports drinks, sweetened iced tea and sweetened, flavored water.
For more information on selecting healthy drinks for your children, look at Play Every Day’s FAQ page. Click on this website to learn more about finding added sugar on an ingredient list.
When Anchorage residents nominate a park for an upgrade, they point to Campbell Creek and Balto Seppala as having the kind of playgrounds they want for their children. Most don’t know these parks as “inclusive” because of features like ramps and soft landing surfaces that make them more accessible to everyone.
Inclusive playgrounds include equipment that is accessible to children of all abilities, either because the equipment is at ground level or it can be reached using ramps. Families like the soft landing surfaces that prevent injuries, sometimes feeling like foam and other times synthetic turf that is fire resistant and comfortable. Kids like to walk on the turf with bare feet, Durand said.
The Municipality of Anchorage has always followed the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when building parks and playgrounds. During the past five years, however, the parks department has put more effort into going above and beyond the ADA standards and building inclusive parks that make equipment accessible to all children as well as to parents who have physical disabilities and want to play with their children, said Durand. One father who uses a wheelchair thanked the parks department for building playgrounds in a way that allows him to help his children on the equipment, Durand said.
Inclusive parks often include more seating areas, places for picnics, and transitions to trails, creeks and other places to explore nearby. They offer more than equipment that promotes physical activity; they build in sensory instruments like the drums at Cuddy Family Midtown Park, too.
“People like to make music,” Durand said. “People like interesting textures and things to touch. It just kind of opens it up for everyone.”
Cuddy Family Midtown Park was the first park in Anchorage to be built from scratch as an inclusive playground. The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department and the Anchorage Park Foundation have since remodeled two existing parks in Anchorage to make them inclusive — Campbell Creek and Balto Seppala — and plan to remodel three more playgrounds: David Green Park on 36th Avenue, Dave Rose Park in the Russian Jack neighborhood, and the Suzan Nightingale McKay Park in the Government Hill area. Once those parks are completed, six of Anchorage’s 85 playgrounds will be inclusive to all children.
The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department began building inclusive parks after families approached them about wanting to be able to use more of Anchorage’s playgrounds. Funding for the parks comes from federal, state and municipal governments; private sources; and nonprofit organizations like the Anchorage Park Foundation, Durand said.
“We are working on a strategic plan to figure out how we can kind of keep this momentum going,” Durand said.
The photograph of Balto Seppala park was provided by the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department.
Summer in Alaska offers a ton of ways to Get Out and Play Every Day with your kids.
Of course, you don’t have to do anything fancy. There are plenty of no-cost activities to do together — go for a walk (or make it a hike), bike, throw a ball or Frisbee, play a little flag football on the lawn…whatever you do, just get your kids out 60 minutes every day.
To supplement your activities or give your family a goal, try some of Alaska’s organized activities as well.
Next week, the Alaska Center for Children and Adults will hold their annual Family Field Day at Denali Elementary in Fairbanks. The good times roll from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10. Events include an obstacle course, tug-of-war, water balloon toss, disability awareness activities and more. Get the details here.
Not in Fairbanks next week? Here are some other kid-friendly events planned around the state:
· KidzRunning is an 8-week program in Anchorage that starts in June and costs $100. Contact James Dooley at Skinny Raven for more information.
· There will be a Kids Tri-Athlon as part of the Eagle River Tri on June 7.
For more race and run information check out the Alaska Running Calendar, the Healthy Futures event calendar, your community’s website, and the activities calendar on our Play Every Day website. Our website also has more great ideas on how you can Get Out and Play Every Day with your kids.