When I was growing up, my friends and I walked to school everyday. In fact most days I ran to school. And, if I wanted to visit with a classmate that lived a mile from my home, I had to walk or run there too.

Physical education classes used to be a standard part of most kids' daily curriculum. Not only were kids required to attend gym class, my classmates and I enjoyed physical activities during recess period.

Back then, walking to school, gym class and recess meant a substantial amount of vigorous daily physical activity. And back then...we didn't have an epidemic of childhood obesity.

But that was then and this is now. A lot has changed and not all for the better...most notably the rate of childhood obesity.

Today, approximately one-fourth of U.S. children are considered overweight. This represents a 20 percent increase in just 30 years.

Because of safety concerns, carpooling parents often shuttle around today's children to school or wherever they want to go. Over the past few decades, the commitment to phys-ed class has changed dramatically as well.

And when given a choice, too many kids will opt to just watch television, play video games or zone out at the computer rather than doing anything physically active. All of this contributes to a sedentary lifestyle that is very unhealthy.

If we want children to change their bad habits, parents need to think about changing their behavior too.

As the warm spring weather beckons us out into the sunshine, now is the perfect time for parents to focus a little time and attention on helping their children become and stay physically fit.

Regular physical activity has other benefits beyond decreasing body fat and fighting obesity. Vigorous exercise four or five times a week can help your child_

  • Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Strengthen muscles, especially the heart
  • Increase bone density
  • Improve gross motor skills
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Increase energy and endurance stamina
  • Get a better night's sleep
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Build self-esteem
  • Setting up a basketball backboard in the back yard and spending just 20 minutes shooting hoops each day can help your child get into shape and stay fit.
  • A volleyball-badminton net can provide hours of entertainment for the entire family and friends.
  • A simple brisk walk around the block and talking about the day's activities can be a great way to exercise while working in some quality time with the kids.

Children "learn from what they live"...so set a good example. Along with a good diet, teaching your child the importance of exercise - and insisting that they participate - can become a healthy habit that can last a lifetime.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology (r) at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children's health issues, and is a contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com. For more information go to www.dienviro.com

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health CenterĀ® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org. Follow her on Twitter@TheGreenDirt and 'like' her Facebook page here.