Healthy Families, Healthy Kids

by Beth Cline

When Andrea Vincent goes to lace up her tennis shoes, her one-year old daughter giggles in excitement and exclaims, “Run mommy, run!” Vincent is already setting a lifelong example for her daughter by taking her along on regular runs, thanks to a running stroller. As a first time mom and lifelong athlete, Vincent already know something recent studies are proving: family exercise sessions increase self-esteem and confidence in children, improve the family relationships and even contribute to better communication skills between family members. Studies have also shown that children are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, if their parents are committed to health and fitness, as well.

Before embarking your family on a new exercise adventure, sit down and discuss fitness and health goals together. Explain the importance of family exercise to children and ask for input on activities and scheduling. Try to find three days a week to work out together first. Here are a few ideas to get started:

• Plan a game of touch football in the backyard after school.

• Take a walk or bike-ride around the neighborhood before dinner.

• Choose a child-oriented workout video to do together in the evening.

• Take the whole family to the gym together on the weekends. Encourage older children to workout with the parents and take advantage of the classes most gyms offer for younger children. After the workout, find out what the children learned, or liked.

• Get together with a couple other families for a basketball game at the local gym. Add a little friendly competition by playing kids versus parents or males versus females.

Be sure to include even the littlest family members in the fun. Fairfax County Parks and Recreation Department offers swim classes called Toddler and Me Swim, encouraging parents and children to enjoy the water exercise from an early age. Groups like See Mommy Run encourage women to train for marathons and other running events with children in strollers. See Mommy Run founder Andrea Vincent explains, “Moms are the first and best role model for children. For parents to include children in regular exercise from the beginning sets a great precedence for them later in life.”

With busy schedules that may already include sports practice, piano lessons, scouts, and tutoring, parents may worry about finding time to include even the recommended thirty minutes of daily exercise with their children. If this is your concern, remember the thirty minutes of exercise do not necessarily have to be consecutive. Try a few ideas that take as little as five extra minutes and add up quickly:

• leave the house a few minutes early and walk with children the long way to the bus stop.

• when at the mall, grocery store or even the practice field, park in the back and walk the extra distance together.

• take the stairs instead of the elevator for a reasonable number of floors. See who can get to the top first.

• While relaxing, watch a TV show together and do pushups or crunches during commercial breaks.

The family workout is about more than just physical activity. It gives parents a wonderful opportunity to get to know their children better and teach them life lessons that will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle in the future. While taking a walk or bike ride, feed their social development by encouraging children to talk about their day, a book they’re reading or their favorite topic. Take advantage of the opportunity to teach children about sportsmanship while playing a quick game of kickball. Sharpen their coordination skills by playing catch in nearby park. Make workouts quality time together and both parents and children will look forward to it.

Now that the family is working out together, keep it that way! One of the most heavily cited reasons adults AND children stop working out is boredom. Stay interested and motivated by training towards a specific family goal or event. For a family that enjoys running together, plan a trip to a road race in an exciting city. Many races, like the Marine Corps Marathon, offer families a variety of ways to participate. Involve the youngest runners in the kids’ race, teenagers in a mid-range race like a 5, 8 or 10K, while one or both parents run a full or half marathon. Or plan a ski trip and hit the slopes as a family. Many venues offer lessons for beginners, and everyone is sure to get a great leg workout. Remember to keep exercise fun and family members of all ages will be happy to participate.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Sunday, October 29, 2006.  for registration information. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

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