According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, nearly 1/3 of all American children under the age of 18 are overweight or obese, and that number has grown by 10% every decade for the last 30 years. Not surprisingly, the two most common direct causes are routinely acknowledged to be consuming too many calories and/or too little physical activity. A disturbing trend in declining physical activity has been driven by the popularity of sedentary activities such as TV viewing, video game playing and social media interaction. Unfortunately, most schools are not helping much either, as physical education classes and recess time continue to dwindle. Need more evidence? Visit any playground or ball park after school or on a weekend to witness the lack of children in ‘free play’.
So what’s a conscientious parent to do to insure their child grows up with a firm respect for the need to be fit and healthy? Well, like most other values that children learn, the earlier the better. And, of course, parental role modeling, commitment and involvement are essentials as well. But therein lays a tremendous win-win too! Daily involvement in your child’s exercise program not only helps to improve their health and fitness, but it will also benefit you. And, in addition to the obvious physical fitness rewards, there are significant bonding benefits as well. Here are ten ways to promote exercise within your family.
1. Buy each member of your family an inexpensive pedometer and set a daily goal of 10,000 steps or more per person (less for younger children) – make this fun by encouraging competition and offering fun awards for daily, weekly or monthly achievement.
2. Establish a daily exercise ‘routine’ for each member of your family that is scheduled and non-negotiable – make this fun for your children by allowing them to help choose their designated time and activity and to ‘track’ their results on a calendar.
3. No time to exercise? Cut out at least one hour of TV each night, go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour earlier – the average child in America watches 25 hours of TV per week – their parents are watching nearly 35 hours per week – watch less and exercise more!
4. Establish a regular weekend routine that includes family hikes, jogs, bike rides, paddling or swimming – make this fun for your children by choosing a different destination or activity each weekend.
5. Set a family goal to complete a minimum number of ‘walk/run’ events together each year – make this fun by occasionally choosing events in family friendly areas that are new to your family.
6. Watching a long TV movie or sporting event together? Use the ‘pause’ button to take an ‘exercise break’ or to get outside and simulate the game you’re watching.
7. Use the car less and your feet more – whenever possible, walk, bike or jog instead of ride – don’t let your children get ‘hooked’ on motorized transportation. If you do need to drive, park as far as safely possible from your destination – don’t send the wrong message to your children by lazily cruising parking lots looking for spaces ‘near the door’.
8. On long trips; build in walks, hikes or jogs along the way – use a map to find safe and convenient pedestrian areas or parks along your route – a great way to improve your sightseeing experience as well.
9. Join a family friendly fitness center – there are nearly 30,000 health clubs in America and most offer a wide variety of affordable exercise options for families – go to http://www.healthclubs.com to find a club near you.
10. Not sure where to start…take a walk! Of walking, Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke of the American Academy of Sports Medicine says, “There are certainly many forms of cardiovascular exercise that improve health and fitness, such as running, cycling, and swimming. But, from the perspective of finding a great exercise program for the most number of people, walking is the best bang for your buck.” And, done with your child, walking provides a wonderful bonding experience as well.
Doug Werner is a vice president for Glastonbury, CT based Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness and the author of ‘Abbie Gets Fit‘, a children’s book chronicling the true story of his nine year old daughter’s fitness transformation. He is a 35-year veteran of the fitness industry and a recipient of that industry’s Distinguished Service Award. Doug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .