Leading the Pack

February 18, 2011 in Diabetes, Fitness, Health, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

I have two large, very active dogs. I take them for an hour walk each morning -- every morning without fail. The more vigorous the walk, the better. Is this walk for their health and mine? Maybe a little; but the real reason that I exercise my dogs is that they are so much more well-behaved and easier to be around when they have an outlet for their energy. The dogs are so much less likely to get into trouble and be a nuisance when they are physically tired. This is self-defense.

I have been using this technique for years, but it really was solidified for me when I started watching the videos of Cesar Millan – the Dog Whisperer. The cornerstone of his philosophy for having a happy and healthy dog is exercise. Exercise first, then discipline and then affection. Regarding dog aggression, Cesar says, “For many of these dogs, it is a lack of adequate exercise that is the root of the problem. Physical activity burns the dog's excess energy and helps maintain his healthy state of mind. This is important because, in order to talk to the mind, you need to remove the energy from the body.”

Some parents have adapted the philosophy of the Dog Whisperer for child rearing. I reviewed several blogs about this topic and the funny thing is: all of the ones I looked at failed to mention what I consider to be one of the more important aspect of Millan’s philosophy – exercise. I assume that we have such an exercise-adverse society that many people choose to ignore the obvious.

In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey talks about the decrease in disciplinary problems and increase in grades that occurs when kids exercise. Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.

This stuff is important. Exercise isn’t something that we can just put into the seemingly endless stack of things to do. Children are our future. It is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to see that their children get what they need to grow into healthy adults; among other things, children require:

These are daily requirements. Interestingly enough, these are also adult daily requirements. One of the best ways to help your child is by setting a good example: cut out the junk food and eat nutritious foods; cut down on your time in front of a computer or TV screen and get exercise; and set rules for yourself to ensure that you achieve what you want to achieve – including a healthy lifestyle.

People who regularly exercise:

  • have stronger muscles and bones
  • have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
  • are less likely to become overweight
  • decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • can possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels

Among researchers there seems to be a chicken and egg debate about childhood obesity and exercise: which comes first obesity then sedentary lifestyle or sedentary lifestyle and then obesity. In one study, the most significant factor leading to childhood obesity was lack of physical activity. This study evaluated the exercise and eating habits of nearly 900 children who were either at risk of becoming overweight or were already considered overweight. The research found:

  • Children in the normal-weight group participated in two to four more minutes of vigorous physical activity per day than those in the at-risk and overweight group.
  • Fiber intake -- not fat calories -- was more closely related to a child's weight. Normal-weight children consistently reported consuming more fiber than at-risk and overweight children did.
  • Overweight boys reported watching more minutes of television than normal weight boys.

It is important to start taking steps as a family to incorporate healthy activity and healthy eating. This is preventative medicine that everyone in the family can and should take. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) offers expanded activity guidelines for children:

Age Minimum Daily Activity Comments
Infant No specific requirements Physical activity should encourage motor development
Toddler 1½ hours 30 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
Preschooler 2 hours 60 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
School age 1 hour or more Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more

Don’t make lifestyle changes a big scary thing. Simple changes each day will make a huge difference. For example, substitute a salad or green leafy vegetable for mashed potatoes or French fries; eat an apple, orange or other piece of fruit for a snack; drink water instead of soda or juice; take a brisk 30-minute walk in the evening instead of watching a sitcom. Simple changes each day add up to big results.

The key is making changing that will work for you and your family. If your family doesn’t have any favorite aerobic activities, you might want to try some of the following:

  • jumping rope
  • playing basketball
  • bicycling
  • skating
  • skiing
  • swimming
  • playing tennis or badminton
  • walking/jogging/running
  • bouncing on a trampoline

If your family lives near a park, walk to the park and then swing, slide, play on the monkey bars or use whatever equipment is available. You could also do tag team races, adjusting teams or start times to allow for the ability differences of family members. Be creative – use your brain -- that burns calories too. Check out these suggestions for workouts when you are confined indoors. You can tailor these suggestions for workout sessions for you and your family.

Remember the calorie burning value of just moving. Getting the whole family involved in doing activities around the house is a good way to get the house picked up, the garage kept tidy, and the yard looking nice. These types of activities done on a daily basis – just 15 – 30 minutes a day -- help you to avoid a weekend overloaded with chores, make it easier to locate things around the house and improve the home environment. It also helps instill discipline. I wish that I had my dogs trained to pick up around the house and yard – usually they are the ones bringing sticks into the yard and redistributing my things around the house.

Give yourself and your kids – your dog too if you have one -- what you all need and deserve: healthy food, healthy activity and healthy discipline.

Try the following nutrient filled recipe as a substitute for white flour pasta.

Spaghetti Squash and Hectic Holiday Week Spaghetti Sauce

To add more vegetables to your diet, serve Dr. Grandma's Hectic Holiday Week Spaghetti Sauce over Spaghetti Squash instead of pasta.


1 spaghetti squash
Dr. Grandma's Hectic Holiday Week Spaghetti Sauce without the pasta.


Poke holes in squash. Don’t skip this step, as the explosion of a roasting whole squash can cause serious damage to your appliance. Place on a cookie sheet lined with foil; bake in oven at 350 degrees F, until it yields with a mitted hand (approximately an hour or two, depending on the temperature and shape of the squash.)

Remove from the oven and cool until easy to handle. When cool, cut in half; scoop out and discard the seeds; and then scoop out the "spaghetti."

Spoon the spaghetti sauce over the spaghetti squash and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Poke holes in squash and roast until done.

Cool, then cut open and discard seeds.

Scoop out 'spaghetti.'

Place a portion of spaghetti squash on serving plate.

Spoon spaghetti sauce over squash.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese.