Don’t leave your child’s fitness at the mercy of the Xbox controller. Start here, and make physical activity part of your family’s daily routineBy: Hollis Templeton
While you still have 5 months before ringing in a new year and resolving to get back in shape, your kids get a fresh start this fall. So instead of letting them lounge pool- (or couch-) side for the last few lazy days of summer, use the back-to-school season as an excuse to fire up your family’s commitment to fitness.
“Kids who are inactive during the summer months tend to lose most of the fitness gains they achieved during the school year,” says Avery Faigenbaum, EdD, an American Council on Exercise spokesperson and a professor in the department of health and exercise science at the College of New Jersey. But kids who move more during the summer keep their skills sharp, says Faigenbaum. “Active kids tend to return to school in the fall with more confidence to engage in physical activity and sports,” he says.
Parents should encourage their kids to get active for at least an hour every day, says Faigenbaum. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are four strategies for helping your kids develop a love for fitness that will last way beyond the upcoming school year. And who knows, maybe the motivation will be mutual.
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To inspire a love for fitness in your kids or teens, it’s important that they see physical activity as play, not work, says Valerie Lawson, director of the YMCA’s national Healthy Family Home initiative. “Children view their parents as role models, so it’s important that as adults, we are aware of how active we are,” she says. “At the same time, don’t complain about having to be active.”
Always think about how your family can move more together, advises Lawson, who suggests holding a family huddle to brainstorm on ways to incorporate each family member’s favorite games, sports, or hobbies into activities that everyone can do together. “If you have five kids, you plan five different activities,” she says. Then let these activities turn into habits. For example, start with a 5-minute walk after dinner, using the stroll as a time to talk about each other’s day. Eventually, the walks will become longer, and then they will become routine. “And there, you’ve brought activity into the family without it seeming like work,” says Lawson.
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One of the easiest ways to ensure your child is engaging in at least 60 minutes of daily activity: Play outside. And if you don’t have a backyard; there’s always one you can borrow.
In an effort to motivate families to take advantage of fitness opportunities in the great outdoors, a Junior Ranger program is in full swing at more than 60 national parks across the country, offering unique fitness opportunities to families as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's nationwide Let's Move Outside campaign to end childhood obesity within a single generation.
One spot where the program has really taken off is the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, a park that hosts an annual fun run, weekly yoga, Zumba, martial arts classes, kite flying, a regatta, kayak tours for ages 12 and up, and even Civil War–style boot camp training.
“All of our programs are tied to park themes or history,” says Bruce Jacobson, superintendent of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, adding that the park was used as a training ground for soldiers from Civil War times until World War II. Today, historical tidbits and training techniques add color to fitness classes on the islands.
Across the country, Junior Ranger programs are tailored to a park’s climate, geography, and natural attractions. In Arizona, kids earn Junior Ranger badges by riding mules to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, Junior Rangers roll and slide down sand dunes. And the fun doesn’t stop when the weather turns cold. At Mount Rainer National Park in Washington, kids and their families are invited to test their wintertime survival skills by building snow caves, setting up tents, and participating in ranger-led snowshoe walks.
To find a Let’s Move Outside Junior Ranger program near you, visit www.nps.gov.
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If your kids can’t go 5 minutes without checking Twitter and Facebook, have no fear. Family fitness is getting a social media facelift thanks to a new program from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenges kids and adults to be active at least 5 days a week for 6 weeks, and kids can track and share their progress online. “You can even create your own group of family members, friends and coworkers to do it with you," says U.S. figure skater Michelle Kwan, a member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
The online tracking system allows users to select activities, enter times, and follow progress toward an award. After 2 months, you’ll receive a certificate of recognition from Council cochairs, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and retired U.S. gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes. If you already work out for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week, start working toward a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum award—there’s a challenge for everyone!
The council’s goal is to encourage 1 million Americans, kids and adults alike, to achieve the PALA by the end of September 2011. Register and start tracking your workouts by logging on to millionpalachallenge.com.
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You’ve set aside time for fitness, found your favorite recreational area, maybe even signed up for a family gym membership. But don’t forget that your house and backyard are home to effortless—and endless—fitness opportunities.
“The biggest thing for the family is to be creative, whether it’s with a game of catch, water balloons, tag, Hula-hoops, and so on,” says Lawson, adding that it is also important to continue to incorporate what each family member enjoys. If that’s baseball, play catch. If it’s gardening, weed and water plants, she suggests. (Related: Create the perfect backyard gym)
Variety is also key when it comes to the body benefits of being active, says Lawson. By varying activities, you’ll ensure that some workouts increase heart rates, while others improve balance, strength, coordination, and flexibility, she says.
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