Getting Fit for Fun
My 1 ½ year old never walks. Like most toddlers, Katie jumps, hops or runs instead. Though kids are naturally drawn to exercise, this desire can easily be snuffed out. As we age, we often neglect physical activity, and unfortunately our children are copying us. Surgeon General Satcher has announced that obesity has reached epidemic proportions, with over 60% of American adults being overweight, along with over 20% of our children.
One of the best legacies we can give our children is the habit of exercise. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the "father of aerobics", says in his book Kid Fitness that the easiest way to do this is to exercise with them, so that exercise becomes a time to nurture your relationships. One of our main complaints as parents is that we don’t have enough time to spend with our kids. Exercise provides the perfect opportunity to get fit while you’re all having fun together!
As wonderful as this sounds, few of us follow through. Laziness, though, can’t be the problem. Parents today face so many demands exhaustion is our default state. Instead, I believe our inactivity stems from our attitudes about exercise: it’s hard, it’s time-consuming, and it’s boring.
"But It’s Hard"
My mother-in-law spent her childhood in a rural East Coast town with her thirteen siblings. She recalls eating all the traditionally high fat foods, yet the family’s waistlines didn’t expand because there was simply so much to do to run the household. Few of us today lead such physically demanding lives. A Scottish study found that in the last twenty-five years our energy expenditure has dropped by 800 calories a day.
Not only does our daily life not require exercise; we also choose to spend our spare time watching TV or playing computer games. To make exercise easier, make such sedentary pursuits harder. When we moved to our new house, our once central television set was relegated to the basement. Instead of the TV being the focal point of our home, we created a central, comfortable place where the children were free to jump or wrestle. As a result my toddler cut her viewing time by about 75%, without any effort on our part.
"But It Takes Too Much Time"
The guidelines for exercise used to be an intimidating 30 minute bursts at least three times a week. Few of us can free up these blocks of time, so we don’t even try. However, researcher Steven Blair of the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research in Dallas says that smaller time units may still provide many health benefits. So how much is enough? Blair says, "Doing something is better than doing nothing at all, and doing more is better still". Even 10 minutes at a time, if you keep at it, can build fitness.
"But It’s Boring"
Our final misconception is that exercise is a chore. But our bodies crave exercise, and reward us by feeling great afterwards. With so many ways to stay active, you don’t have to try something you hate. Find something that’s fun for you, and your children will gravitate to it.
Giving children—and yourself—a harmless way to release energy has one other benefit: it makes household life far more peaceful. You and your children will burn off steam, resulting in less whining and fewer fights. But perhaps best of all, you will have more energy to accomplish the many other things you need to get done.
You’re pumped to move, you have ten free minutes, your children are ready, but what activities should you do that constitute "exercise"?
Here are some ideas. Use them as a jumping board for finding your own family’s fitness style.
Birth to Eighteen Months
- Get on the floor and crawl with your baby. Encourage them to move by placing colorful objects just out of reach.
- Lie on your back with your baby on your legs. Do leg lifts. Older toddlers still love this "airplane" game.
- Wrestle with your baby with lots of tickles and kisses.
- Take swimming lessons.
- Instead of using the stroller, use a backpack or a front carrier to maximize the benefits of walking.
- Dance while holding your baby.
- Chase kids around the yard or basement; play tag, freeze, or hide and seek.
- Dance and jump to tapes, action song videos, or even kid fitness videos.
- Practice throwing, kicking, and catching a ball.
- Have a clean-up race: set the timer for 5 minutes and see how much you can tidy up.
- Act out stories you read. My family likes Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe
- Have tickle fights or play wrestling matches.
- Join play gym groups at the local YMCA or gym. You’ll use gym equipment you wouldn’t normally have and meet other neighborhood families.
- Attach a knotted rope or gymnastics style-rings to a tree or indoor wooden beam for children to practice lifting themselves up.
- Bike on short errands.
- Buy a trampoline.
- Jog to the corner store, and reward your kids with a low-fat treat.
- Have skipping contests.
- Play hopscotch.
- Find a family sport, like skating, skiing, biking, or basketball. Hold sports parties for the neighborhood.
- Take camping holidays, and canoe, hike and swim.
- Play frisbee in the park.
- Go tobogganing