One of the most important gifts you can pass on to your children is a healthy lifestyle. You’ve probably heard that children learn more by observing their parents than listening to them. My experience leads me to believe this is true, and families who know how to turn movement into fun raise kids who enjoy exercise. What adults call “workouts,” kids call play. Follow these easy tips to build a culture of fitness-play in your family.
- Designate specific “dark” times for TV and computer. When you take away these options, kids will find other ways to entertain themselves. And, when they know it’s only for a specific period of time and not forever, they’ll be more willing to comply. With a little direction from you, they can use this time to be active. The important thing is that you have to take your own advice. Whether you are legitimately getting work done on the computer (NOT on Facebook!) or watching the news, your kids won’t be very excited about your suggestions if the rules don’t apply to you. If you ALL agree to leave the electronics behind, your kids will relish the time they have with you and begin to associate exercise with togetherness.
- Turn household chores into fun family activities. For example, take the whole family out to wash the car. In between soaking the sponge in the bucket, add a lap around the car and instigate a game of tag. When you need to water the lawn, have a good old-fashioned run through the sprinklers. Time to rake the leaves? Get a big pile going and have a contest to see who can make the biggest jump to spread the leaves out. Yes, you will need to rake and re-create the pile in-between. No problem. That just adds in more activity. Bring a stopwatch and see who can rake the leaves the fastest.
- Get a pet (or borrow one.) Years ago, ACE ran a public service announcement that that had a picture of a dog holding a leash and it said, “Think of him has an exercise machine with hair.” A dog is a live-in playmate that never gets tired of walking or chasing the ball or wrestling on the grass. If you are not in a situation where you can own a dog, there is probably someone on your block who would welcome an extra playmate for his or her pet.
- Keep music playing in your home and in your car. The best thing about this suggestion is that YOU get to choose the music. You can certainly ask for “requests” from your kids, which helps involve them. Music encourages movement, which can turn into fun and play. Try a family dance contest where family members vote on the best moves. Or have a dance party from a certain era like the ‘80s. Dig out your legwarmers and horrify your teenagers as you demonstrate the Electric Slide. Once they realize none of their friends are in the room, they might just join in.
- Learn a new sport together. While it can be fun for you to hand down your sports acumen, it might be more fun for your kids to learn something new with you. That way you are all starting at the same point and no one is considered “better” than anyone else. Martial arts, dance and ladder golf could be a good place to start.
- Always have toys with you. In the back of my car, we always keep a football, tennis ball and Frisbee. No matter where we are, if we find ourselves with a few extra minutes, we pull a ball out and play catch. See how many times you can catch the ball without dropping it or add some additional moves between each throw. For example, throw the ball and then turn in a circle before your partner throws the ball back. This is especially helpful when you are waiting in line. You will look at all those poor kids, tugging on their mothers and asking, “How much longer?” with great sympathy as you toss your football to your smiling son or quietly bounce a tennis ball back and forth with your preschooler.
- Sneak in exercise everywhere. We have all heard the example of parking farther out in the parking lot to get some extra activity. If you have your family with you, park way out in the lot and turn the walk to the store into some fun. Play a game of follow the leader or skip your way along. If you pick your children up from school, park a few blocks away, walk to meet them, and then head back to the car together. Add in some fun with marching songs (Left, left, left, right, left…) or run in a “daisy chain” where the person in the back runs to the front every 10 steps.