Have computers, cell phones, and digital games taken control of your family? It’s time to take family fitness back. Exercise is essential, especially due to inactivity that marks the digital age. Exercise improves mood through releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Positive vibes enhance bonding. The time you spend with your family now in activity registers in a child’s mind as love, and that love lasts. Spending time with your family while getting fit helps knit your heart to your children and your spouse.
Childhood obesity affects up to 20 percent of American children. Parents constantly have to compete with the video games and screen time at our kids’ fingertips. To do that, family activities need to be fun. You want to teach your children the importance of taking care of their temple. Embracing an active lifestyle as a family lays the groundwork for your children’s healthy futures, as they adopt the same positive attitude toward fitness.
Kids model their parents’ behavior, so it is vital that they see you eat nutritious food and participate in regular exercise. These good habits create a culture of wellness in your home.
Unfortunately, 40 percent of American adults experience obesity, so staying physically active is just as important for parents as it is for the kids. You only have one body, and it needs to last a lifetime. Here are 6 ways to help you create a healthy family fitness routine.
First, conduct a family meeting and brainstorm about enjoyable activities you could do as a family that incorporate physical fitness. Some ideas include tennis, horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, hiking, sports, and bicycling. You can even stream or download many free exercise videos. What can you add to this list? Even if you spend just twenty minutes twice a week playing and exercising with your kids, this activity time will yield high dividends in your health and your relationships.
After your family has brainstormed fun family activities, plan when you’re going to do them. Weekends are usually the best time for longer events such as canoeing or horseback riding. But you may be able to fit in a bicycle ride or a walk in your neighborhood daily during the week. Establish goals with your family. One big event on the weekend and two or more short spurts of activity during the week are a great start. Maybe you want to work up to walking or running in a 5k race for a good cause. Get your calendar and plan when your family will take a walk or go for a bike ride during the week. Post it or put in on your family calendar app so all can see. Make sure to plan ahead for bigger activities. This may include calling a ranch to schedule horseback riding or setting up a canoe trip. Camping is one of the most popular family activities in America and creates memories that last a lifetime.
If your children are younger, go to a local park to enjoy the swings, slides, and other playground equipment. Be a kid again! This can be enjoyable for the whole family and provide heaps of exercise for the kids. Driving to a state park or nature trail to go hiking provides a bonding experience for the whole family. Point out the plants, birds, and animals you discover along the way. This gives the opportunity to teach your children about God’s imagination in the great variety of his creation. It’s also an opportunity to learn about caring for the environment. Nature walks and hikes give you the opportunity to unplug and focus on each other. It is times like these when children, especially adolescents and teens, open up and talk. It’s also an excellent opportunity for you to connect with your spouse.
Choosing a sport together gives you the chance to model healthy competition and sportsmanship. When was the last time you grabbed a basketball with your son or daughter and played a good game of “Horse,” where you shoot a basket from different positions and gain a letter for each time you sink the ball through the hoop? You can also purchase tennis rackets and balls and set out for the local public tennis courts. Your whole family will get loads of exercise running after those tennis balls.
If your child is involved in sports at school or through after school clubs, involve the whole family in practice. Set up bases for softball in your yard. Practice hitting, throwing, and running the bases with your children. If you need more players, ask some neighborhood kids to join you. If your child is involved in soccer, set up goals at opposing ends of the yard, and play a game or two. If it’s football, teach your child how to pass and kick the ball. Each of you will end up running to catch the football, which is a great cardiovascular workout.
Bowling, roller skating, and ice skating are family activities you may remember from your childhood. When children are young, you can add bumpers to the bowling lanes and have a great time playing a couple of games. Lace-up your skates at a local rink and glide along next to your kids. Birthday parties at skating rinks and bowling alleys also provide activity and fun.
When you go outside, it’s easier to be active. Get the whole family out of their bedrooms, off the couch, and into the front or back yards. Keep a collection of different balls in the garage or on the back porch for easy use so you can throw a ball to each other. Throw a soft small ball on the roof and try to catch it as it rolls off the roof. Add a hula hoop, jump rope, and pogo stick to your collection of outdoor toys. See who can keep the hula-hoop going the longest, or who can jump rope or stay on the pogo stick the longest. Play cornhole or throw a Frisbee, perfect activities for the backyard, a park, or at a beach. Exercise does not have to be boring. Do you see any great trees that would be fun to climb? Get up (carefully) in the tree with your kids. Remember the activities you used to do as a kid and show your kids you are still young at heart.
Ordinary household items and supplies can make for family fitness fun too. Create a balance beam with two bricks and a board, and you will be very entertained as you watch each family member try to get across without falling. This activity improves balance and coordination. How about everyone in the family trying a cartwheel? Active play doesn’t have to be complicated.
Nothing bonds you to your kids like teaching them to swim. If you don’t have a swimming pool, go to a local lake or public pool with the whole family. Swimming exercises almost every muscle in your body. Use goggles and snorkels to see what type of fish you can observe in a lake or ocean. If you live in an area where there is snow, go sledding, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. These provide a great workout. Go outside for a snowball fight or make snow angels. How about snow skiing? Not everyone gets the opportunity to learn this challenging sport. When you teach your child at a young age they get the hang of it more quickly, and it is a sport they can participate in their whole life.
If it is too cold to be outside or it is raining, turn on the music and have a dance party or play a game of freeze dance in your living room or family room. Stream an exercise video rather than a movie. Teach your kids lunges and squats or have them follow you in a workout routine. Have a family challenge for sit-ups or push-ups. Blow up a couple of balloons and see if you can keep the balloons from touching the floor.
Put some padding on the floor to create a gymnastic area, or wrestle with your kids. Get on the floor, and you will find that your kids love to pile on top of you. Get out that game of Twister so the whole family can play. Laugh and be silly. Whatever you decide to do, make it fun and a regular habit for your family.
While you’re having fun incorporating more activities into your family’s schedule and routines, you draw closer together, and your relationships grow. Spending time as a family is vital, and there is no better way to do it than through fun, physically challenging activities. By spending time with your kids, you are strengthening their internal self-image and helping them become externally healthier through exercise. Together, you are building bonds that will last a lifetime.
Written by: Susan Neal RN, MBA, MHS
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