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Healthy Kids: Benefits of Sports

Mason Wegener runs cross country for the South Eugene Axemen. Photo courtesy Kelli Warner

EUGENE, Ore. - NBC 16 is proud to sponsor the first annual SportsTown Awards taking place on Thursday, June 2. The awards are hosted to the Eugene, Cascades & Coast sports commission and celebration outstanding athletes, events and athletic achievement in the region.

Dr. Pilar Bradshaw from Eugene Pediatric Associates says kids who play sports gain much more than just the benefits of regular exercise.

Bradshaw will deliver the keynote address at the SportsTown Awards.

As a pediatrician, she's seen first-hand how sports help young athletes learn valuable traits that will serve them well later in life.

Ever since Mason Wegener stepped on the soccer field in elementary school, his parents have taught him the importance of getting regular exercise.

"They've always been really open to anything that I wanted to do and any activity that I wanted to do, but they've always been insistent that we are doing something," Mason Wegener said.

After playing soccer through his freshman year of high school, Mason decided to try something new and discovered a love for running.

"Just really from the first races, I knew that the community behind running, as well as the sport itself, was a really big draw for me," he said.

Bradshaw says involvement in sports helps kids, like Mason Wegener, to develop important life skills that extend well beyond the track, the field, or the court.

"It's a wonderful way to teach your kids responsibility, being part of a team, showing up, being something bigger than yourself, plugging away by practicing at something," Bradshaw said.

Engaging in a sport can boost a child's self-esteem. It's a natural way to loosen up and let go of stress. Sports require memorization, repetition and learning - skillsets that are directly relevant to schoolwork.

Mason's mother Helen Wegener says being involved in athletics has also provided an opportunity to teach her son about following through.

"We always thought it was important that if you had committed to a team and you were playing with a team that you saw the season out," she said.

On top of building skills, getting regular, physical activity in any form is important for kids medically.

"We want kids to be busy and running around with their heart rate up for 60 minutes or more a day. So for the kids who are really dedicated to sports, it's a tremendous health benefit for them when they're doing cardio and it's fun," Bradshaw said.

But playing games and attending practices, in addition to schoolwork and other family activities requires a lot of time.

Bradshaw says it's important for parents to make sure kids aren't over-scheduling themselves and suffering sleep loss.

"I call it the busy teenager and the busy parent syndrome. Teenagers need more sleep than tweens, so the average teen really should get at least eight hours of sleep a night, nine would be optimal," Bradshaw said.

Mason Wegener will graduation from South Eugene High School in less than two weeks. He'll continue running cross country and track when he attends Dartmouth College in the fall.

His advice to younger athletes is this: "Always make sure you're having a good time and you're doing it because you love it."

Bradshaw says kids benefit from playing sports regardless of their physical abilities and kids who are physically active are more likely to become active, healthier adults.

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