Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Family Exercise

By Shelly DeRuiter, PT (Work Systems Rehab & Fitness, PC; Pella, Iowa)

In the last two decades the number of overweight and obese children has more than doubled, putting them at risk to become overweight or obese adults with serious problems such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even psychological and social problems. Fortunately, parents can take steps now to prevent this. To borrow and tweak an old saying: “The family that plays together stays together.” Exercising together as a family will keep everyone physically and emotionally healthier.

It is no secret that children are less active today. Passive activities like television, internet, and video games often trump physical activity. In addition, schools offer less gym time than a generation ago. Even children playing team sports like baseball and soccer are not learning the habit of a physical activity – such as riding a bike – which they can carry into adulthood. Kids often get tired of the sport and quit, and it's not a lifetime sport.

Exercise is a great opportunity for parents to who want to spend more quality time with their children, but being active together is also a huge fitness benefit for the adults. Children who participate with or observe their parents being active will be more likely to develop a life-long habit of exercise. Choosing to exercise as a family will not only build stronger and healthier bodies, but it will forge stronger and healthier relationships as well.

Physical activity can help everyone in the family be and feel healthier. Exercise can:
  • Boost energy level
  • Improve balance, coordination and flexibility
  • Improve circulation
  • Strengthen the heart, lungs, bones and muscles
  • Burn the fat and calories you consume throughout the day
  • Help you sleep better at night
  • Reduce stress and depression
  • Reduce the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Improve self-image

However, knowing exercise is good for our families and fitting it into busy schedules are two different things. Here are some ideas for getting everyone involved:

  • Find out what your children like to do and make this a focus of your family activities.
  • Make it fun.
  • Keep the word “exercise” out of your vocabulary. Instead, promote “play time” and encourage activities that are fun and physical such as hop-scotch, jumping rope, tag or hide-and-go-seek.
  • Use family walks or bike rides as a time to do more than just exercise together. Walk downtown, visit a friend, or run errands.
  • Try planning social outings to involve physical activity such as taking the family dancing or roller-skating.
  • Make it a rule to leave the television off one day a week. This encourages physical activity and outdoor play.
  • Don't make exercise a chore or work; keep it light and enjoyable.
  • On the other hand, make chores fun. Clean the garage together. See who can pull the most weeds or who can rake up the biggest pile of leaves
  • Vary the activities, and let your children take turns choosing what the family will do.
  • Trips to the park, zoo, or miniature golf course can be fun and involve a lot of walking.
  • Try to be available as much as possible when your children play games such as tag, capture the flag, or kickball.
  • Bring in other kids to make exercise look more like play while creating a fun atmosphere for physical activity. Try organizing a neighborhood game of tag or hide-and-go-seek to get your children outdoors and moving with others.
  • Buy toys that promote physical activity like balls, bikes, and skates.
  • Get outside and take advantage of a local lake and the surrounding trails.

Remember that our choices reflect to our children what our values are. If we believe that exercise is important, they will see it in our lives and want to imitate it. Time spent together exercising provides the awesome opportunity to encourage and build one another up.

Head For the Trails!

By Todd Schemper, PT, DPT (Work Systems Rehab, P.C.; Des Moines, Iowa)

Autumn is here! The leaves are changing; the days are getting shorter; and the temperature is much cooler than our 90 degree summer. The great summer and fall races are past, and many runners are heading inside for the treadmills and tracks. A fun and adventurous alternative for your training program this fall and winter is trail running. The surfaces of your running trails can vary from dirt, to limestone, to grass, or woodchip .

Running on these off-road trails is a wonderful way to explore creation, and enjoy the beauty of the fall season. Breathing fresh air, seeing wildlife, and experiencing the stillness of the woods is a great break from streetlights and traffic. Trail running is also a wonderful activity for your joints and muscles.

The dirt, limestone, or grass surfaces of trail running have been shown to be better for your joints; especially your feet, knees, and back, as the forces sent up through your body are decreased compared to pavement. The terrain can vary, with up-hills, down-hills, curves, and minor obstacles, such as roots, branches, and rocks. Running in this type of environment gives your body a more balanced workout compared to running on sidewalks and streets.

This balanced workout can help you utilize some of those underdeveloped muscle groups that do not have to work as hard on the road. The fact that your feet have to adjust to the uneven surfaces causes you to work harder to balance. The hips are stimulated from the winding curves, uneven terrain, obstacles you may have to run around, and branches that could be hanging over the trail. Your arms and trunk have to work to stabilize as you go up and down ravines and around trees and sharp curves.

By running on trails you can help prevent injury by improving your strength, balance, and awareness of how your body wants to move in more directions than just straight forward. So where do you go to find these types of trails?

There are actually many un-paved trails in the Des Moines Metro. Some locations include Ashworth Park and Denman Woods, Brown’s Woods County Park, Raccoon River Park, and the Sycamore Trail. There may be other trails within forest preserves and state or county parks near your home. If going off-road is more than you feel you are ready for, running once per week on a grassy surface at a local park is enough to give your body some variety from the normal routine.

To get started, find a friend who is excited and willing to head down a new off-road route with you. I recommend taking it easy the first time out, expecting a slightly slower pace than normal because of potentially challenging conditions. If the trail is narrow, and allows only single file running, give the person ahead of you enough room so you can see the trail surface and terrain changes coming up in front of you. Be cautious of potential obstacles such as tree roots, mud, sticks, rocks, and wooden bridges. Also, make sure you have enough daylight to finish the route you are planning to run.

After training on some trails and finding you like what you have experienced, it is time to find an off-road or cross country race that will test your ability and adventure. The Living History Farms Race is a local favorite in November. There are new off-road races starting up every year, and there are even running clubs and national associations that cater to the sport.

Enjoy the trails! You will experience the benefits for your body, mind, and spirit.

Todd Schemper, PT, DPT is a physical therapist, co-owner and clinic manager with Work Systems Rehab, P.C. in Des Moines. He enjoys trail running and helping runners with injury prevention and treatment. Todd can be reached at (515) 309-4706 or todds@worksystemspc.com.