Family Fitness

20 Tips for Healthy Living

An apple a day isn't going to keep the doctor away anymore. With the increase of overweight and obesity in the United States over the last two decades, it's going to take changing the way we think about health and fitness within the family. In a report published in July of 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) called the high number of overweight children and obese adults "a major public health concern."

Dr. Todd Smith, a family practice physician in Cottage Grove says this generation is more overweight and less active than their parents. "Kids see what their parents do and don't do, so it's important that parents take time to show their children the importance of physical activity." Smith adds that genetics alone do not determine a child's health; parent modeling and overall activity level are equally, if not more, important.

Schedule time as a family to participate together in fitness and outdoor activities on a weekly basis. By spending family time together in an active setting, you are showing children the importance of family togetherness as well as health and fitness.

Become a family that values being active together:

1. Focus on the time, not the intensity-Time spent as a family, everyone in the family being active, as well as family togetherness. Teach your children that fitness should be a priority in their lives, while also ensuring they have fun!

2. Let the kids help develop a list of potential activities. Think about creating a list for each season of activities the whole family can enjoy together. Let the kids take turns choosing from the list each week.

3. Invest in family gear. It doesn't have to be expensive-Frisbees, bats and balls, even a water sprinkler can get the family out and running. Just make sure the kids have options and the activities focus on getting them up and moving.

4. Be patient. Use this time to get your children excited about activity time. If anyone has problems keeping up or catching on, make sure he or she doesn't feel left out or awkward.

5. Be creative. Simple tasks like washing the car, raking the yard, gardening and snow shoveling can be fun family activities. More traditional activities like walking the dog and ice-skating can be lots of fun if the emphasis remains on time spent together being active.

6. Consider the environment. In the summer, make sure everyone wears sunscreen and/or hats. Introduce your kids to the importance of hydration-let them pick out their own sports water bottle to bring along on trips.

7. Read books that stress healthy living. Look for books and other everyday items that include people making activity a regular part of their day.

"Many parents frequently emphasis their children's physical activity at their own expense," says Dr. Smith. "It's important to take time to show children that fitness is important for everyone in the family, not just the kids."

In order to be a good parent, take care yourself. Modeling healthy living goes a long way toward getting your children to adopt a fit and healthy lifestyle.

8. Schedule your workouts in advance. Don't rely on day-to-day decisions when it comes to your personal fitness. If you have a workout schedule set up in advance, you will be less likely to skip your run or your trip to the gym.

9. Set Goals. Take time at the beginning of the year to pick out some races or personal goals you'd like to attain.

10. Think outside the box. Be creative with your time. If your children are taking swim lessons, think about jumping in an open lane yourself. Consider running around the soccer fields while your kids are at practice, or just some sit ups and push ups from the sidelines.

11. Invest in the practical essentials. Let's face it, being a parent means your schedule might not include a free hour to get in a run. That's when you should invest in essential gear. Consider a jogging stroller, bike trailer, or a gym membership that includes child care.

12.Use the Buddy System. Partner up with friends who also enjoy physical fitness. Take turns watching the kids so you can get out the door alone or with your spouse.

Cindy and Alan Lybeck are avid runners and triathletes in Minneapolis who do just that. "We've formed new friendships with other couples who have children and who work out," says Cindy. "We share babysitters for long runs together and swap child care at each other's houses so we can get out as a couple. Plus, we've formed new friendships with people who share similar goals and values."

13. Be flexible. Not everything can be scheduled. There will be times you may have to skip a workout in order to get things done at home, work, or with the family.

14.Expose your kids to your hard work and accomplishments. Bring the kids to the track to play while you run. When you run a race, make arrangements so your kids can watch you cross the finish line. It's important that your children see you accomplish your goals and experience the rewards of hard work.

15. Plan outdoor activities whenever possible. Get the kids out of the house. Think about setting limits for the amount of time your kids can spend in front of the television and computer.

16. Visit your local park, recreation center, or nature center. Just bringing your children to the playground on a regular basis encourages them to use their large motor skills and burn off some energy. Look for nature paths, or paved park trails so kids can walk, run, or rollerblade with you in sight.

17. Let your child investigate sports alternatives in organized league play. Most recreation centers offer community leagues for soccer, basketball, and more. Call your local center to get a seasonal list of athletic offerings.

18. Encourage older kids to join you. Invite your older children to join you on runs, bike rides, or trips to the gym. Encourage them to ride their bikes along with you as you run on local trails. Bring kids to the track to run with you at their own pace.

Chris Grupe is a marathon runner from Richfield, Minnesota, who includes his son, Andrew, on his marathon training runs. Andrew bikes while his dad runs, and the two celebrate Chris' marathon finish together. "We always get a photo at the finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon to celebrate our victory together," says Grupe.

19. Invest in the kid essentials. Buy toys and equipment that promote physical activity. Make sure your child's bike seat is at the correct height at the beginning of each summer. Seats should be just high enough to cause a slightly bent knee. Encourage and model the use of helmets for bike riding and rollerblading.

20. Emphasize fun! In order to build long-lasting behaviors, make sure kids are enjoying their physical activity. It is, after all, about building life-long habits and behaviors for the entire family!

The July 2004 JAMA report concluded that, "there is no indication that the prevalence of obesity among adults and overweight children is decreasing." The doctors have identified the problem, but the solution is common sense. By focusing our energy on family fitness, we can correct the problem before it impacts another generation.

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