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.

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