The trappings of modern American culture-TiVo/high-speed Internet/texting--make it a special challenge for families to stay fit and active. Unless you and the kids walk or bike to work or school, chances are good that you have trouble squeezing in as much daily physical activity as your family needs. Even when we have the time to exercise, it can be difficult to compete with the almost magnetic pull of our electronic devices and the couch.
It's not impossible to get your family moving. Even if no one in your group is particularly sporty or into fitness, there are creative and fun ways to sneak physical activity into our daily lives. The real beauty of becoming active as a family-aside from the significant health benefits-is the time you will get to spend together.
Benefits of Being Active as a Family
Why is it so important to get your family moving? Recent statistics estimate that two-thirds of people living in the United States are overweight or obese. Even more troubling; childhood obesity rates are on the rise, putting kids at risk for "adult" health problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and adult-onset diabetes.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that less than one-third of the nation's children between 6 and 17 years old are as active as they should be. Even for children who are not overweight, this is a significant problem. Kids and adults who are physically active reap many benefits in addition to maintaining a healthy weight:
- Developing and maintaining self-esteem;
- Improving flexibility and strength;
- More energy;
- Managing or reducing stress; and
- Better sleep.
How much physical exercise do we need?
The American Heart Association recommends that children who are older than 2 years get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity, age-appropriate physical activity each day. If you can't make it happen all at once, break up the segments into 2, 15-minute periods or 3, 10-minute segments.
The same time recommendations apply for healthy adults, though more is always better! Some medical experts recommend that teens get at least 1 hour of physical activity on most days of the week.
You don't have to be at a gym or engaged in "traditional" fitness regimes to hit those goals. Your body won't care if that time is spent moving on a treadmill in a pricey gym or chasing the kids around the backyard, so get moving with these 5 ideas on how to be more active as a family:
1. Make a Game of It
Simply telling your kids to go outside and get some exercise is likely to be met with blank stares or cries of protest. But when you invite your kids to join you for a game of their choice, you put the ball in their court. There's a host of ways to make a game out of physical fitness:
- Beach volleyball
- Backyard soccer
- Wii games (baseball, bowling, etc.)
- Charades (with active categories)
- Jump-rope contests
- Push-up competitions
2. Fitness CAN Be a Chore
Why not get the family to participate in active chores that will also help you cross items off the "To Do" list? Walk the family dog together, wash the car or have a contest to see who can rake the biggest pile of leaves in the shortest amount of time.
Want to really burn those calories and tone your legs? Ditch the riding lawn mower and use a push model. For an environmental bonus, use an "old fashioned" manual mower and rely on 100% human power. Older kids can help with this chore and the entire family can join together for gardening duties like planting, weeding and harvesting.
Inside the house, crank up the tunes and make a dance party of vacuuming, folding laundry, dusting and putting away toys. Yeah, it's still cleaning, but if you package it right, you'll enjoy yourselves and maybe even break a sweat.
3. Help Others
Teach your kids about fitness and the value of helping others by signing up for a walk or charity run in your community. As a family, choose a cause that is important to you-breast cancer or autism awareness, finding a cure for juvenile diabetes or helping homeless pets, etc.-and come up with a fun name for your team, as well as a fundraising goal.
As soon as you determine the event, you'll need to start "training" and set weekly training goals - "OK, Team Awesome! This week, our goal is 2 miles walked in 40 minutes!"
4. Explore Your Community
Cars are convenient, but you sure miss a lot when you spend all of your time in one. Take your family on a weekly walking or biking tour of your community, hitting a different area each time. You might be surprised by what you discover-interesting public sculptures, cool independent businesses, a park that you never noticed, and so on.
Even a quick pre- or post-dinner spin around the block might result in some unexpected findings and a chance to catch up on the day's news. One rule for these shorter ventures - leave the phone at home. It's hard to be active and engaged when you've got your eyes on the smartphone.
5. Explore the Great Outdoors
Wildlife experts and sociologists are concerned that children are quickly losing touch with the natural world. Fight this trend and promote family wellness by planning an outdoor activity that incorporates movement.
Go on an expedition to the local nature center or community park. Purchase a wildlife guide or find an online check-list that is specific to your region, and make a game of walking around on a scavenger hunt for different specimens. Award points whenever someone identifies something new. Not only will you be out and moving around, you'll teach your kids to appreciate the natural world.
Use the seasons to get the family outside and active. Lazy summer afternoons call for trips to the U-pick berry patch and autumn means a trip to the apple orchard for a walk on the trails and the U-pick pumpkin patch.
Getting your family moving is important for your health, but also as a means to foster a sense of togetherness and family bonding. By incorporating active elements into your daily routine or taking a break to simply play and have fun, you'll create lasting memories of family fun and good health.