I thank my parents every day for raising me in a family culture of physical activity. The lessons they taught us were rich in traditional family values, but with one important distinction — the gift of movement.
I didn’t fully realize the significance of this family value until I was managing my adult life. As I look back on my own exercise history, I see that I made a deliberate decision to include exercise at every stage of my life because it was part of who I was — thanks to my parents. Not only was I healthy and full of energy, but I sent a powerful message to my kids about the importance of fitness.
Parents are the leaders, role models and educators of the family. It is a huge responsibility and one we all take seriously. Our children are watching our every move, often copying what we do. If a parent is sedentary, there’s a good chance the children will be too. The opposite is also true; if we lead a healthy lifestyle, our kids are more likely to do so.
Ask yourself: Is exercise just one more item on the to-do list? Or is it part of your life? The answer to this question determines the fitness success of your family.
We all know the benefits of exercise. It helps prevent disease and manage stress. It gives us stamina, self-confidence and optimism. We want this for our children, yet it’s still tough to make happen. It’s even more challenging to get a whole group of people, such as your family, moving. Like anything worthwhile, you need to make it a priority, planning to fit exercise in and making it a little fun so it will stick.
I interviewed several moms with younger children who gave me some insights into how they get their family moving.
Guiding Principles for Success (So The Kids Embrace Activity):
Think of active time as family time, not a chore. Kids don’t like exercise, but they do like to play games, explore, and run everywhere they go. Build movement around these behaviors.
Avoid pushing them during activity like you would push yourself. The type of movement appropriate for young children is informal, casual and spontaneous. It should feel more like play than exercise.
Our kids want to be entertained. Be creative and network for ideas when you incorporate activity into your daily routine. Expose them to a variety of activities so they can decide which ones they enjoy the most.
Participate in all of the activities with your kids; don’t be on the sidelines.
Activities to Build into Your Daily Life or Vacations:
Sign up your child for Morning Mile at their elementary school. The Morning Mile is a before-school walking/running program that encourages children to start each day with activity, fun, music and friends. It’s also supported by a wonderful system of rewards, which keeps students highly motivated and frequently congratulated. See more at morningmile.com.
If feasible, walk or bike your kids to school. This isn’t only a great way to spend time with them, but also teaches safety for physical activity.
Register for weekend races and walks that raise money for charities. Alachua County has an event almost every weekend, and you may find other local events at fun4gatorkids.com.
Invest in a jog stroller (infant through toddler). Use these outings to also foster a love of nature and the outdoors. Take breaks from your exercise to stop and observe flowers, trees and bugs. We always made it an event when going out with the jog stroller, packing snacks, water, books and toys for the park, our most common destination.
Visit local parks. There are lots of outdoor spaces to consider for variety in excursions. Let your older kids plan a family-fitness day with an obstacle course using park equipment.
If you have a hobby like running or tennis, include your kids to introduce them to some lifetime sports. Or cobble together a hobby with them.
Invite the kids to do your exercise videos with you. They may not last as long as you do, but it will expose them to a variety of fitness movements. Watch them grow in confidence as they experience success.
Pick restaurants, like Satchel’s and One Love, that have outdoor areas for kids to run and play. They will most likely meet other kids doing the same thing and it’s always good to make new friends.
Always pick action activities on vacations. If you are on a cruise, consider the excursions to snorkel, paddleboard and swim. There are tons of action-filled vacations like hiking the mountains and skiing.
As your kids get older, you may want to get them involved in a gym or a recreational activity. Gainesville Health and Fitness offers a free summer teen program that allows kids to try the gym and see how they like it. The City of Gainesville and other organizations, like Girls Place (great for intro volleyball) and Boys & Girls Club (almost every sport), offer programs to introduce kids to sports.
Although there are many more ideas for being active with the family, these will get you started on the journey to being healthy for life. Once you start to exercise and feel better, you will start to adopt other healthy habits. And, with the support of the whole family, everyone is more likely to stick with it. We all want to give our families knowledge, influence attitudes, and encourage behaviors to live their lives without limits.