Ry hurdles

Who would have thought our youngest son would want to spend Friday nights becoming a hurdler? Not his parents!

No one should be surprised by reports released this week indicating kids today are less physically fit than their parents were at their age. While that may be true for many children, it is certainly not true of mine. Here’s why: we make sports a requirement for our children because we believe it not only keeps them fit and healthier, but also translates into better academic performance.

Mandating physical activity for children is more important now than ever before since entertainment preferences are technologically motivated. I know my own kids would happily play video games all day if we didn’t kick them outside on a regular basis. Like any chore, making kids go outside usually means resistance and a lot of complaining. To be sure, parents have to be committed and consistently enforce the goal to make it pay off.

Reports released this week cite 50 fitness studies conducted between 1964 and 2010 as the basis for the findings presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas two days ago. That’s a lot of data to prove what we can see with our very own eyes. But, it’s not just the kids who are less active and heavier — it’s their parents.

A study released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get adequate exercise each week. That means that only 1 in 5 adult Americans get the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity — or, any combination of both. If parents are not modeling the behavior, why would we expect it of our children?

Why are parents and children less physically active? Habit.

The best way to break a habit? Replace it with something you enjoy.

Check out these tips for breaking the unhealthy habit of physical inactivity and commit to better health for yourself and your kids!

Start with walking.

The Mayo Clinic reports that walking can help you maintain healthy weight, prevent heart disease and diabetes, as well as improve your mood. So, if you haven’t been physically active don’t jump into an intense commitment, start with something you know you can do. Mapmywalk.com is a great site to check out walking groups and trails. With active groups around the world, this site boasts more than 70 million walking/running routes. Don’t like what you see? No problem. This site gives you the ability to map your own route. How’s that for a great way to get started? When I looked at the groups in my area, there were more than 400 trails and opportunities to join groups of walkers, joggers, bikers, frisbee players, and yogis. Joining a group is a great way to hold yourself accountable, not to mention, it’s always more fun to walk and exercise with others!

Look for community activities.

If your kids are too young to play school sports, enroll them in a recreational activity. We are lucky that our community offers many affordable options, but it does take parental commitment to get kids to practice and games. Don’t worry if it takes some time to find the right activity for your child. We’ve spent the last couple of years looking for a sport that our youngest son enjoys. This exploration introduced him to cross-country, track and field, and lacrosse. He may not be a soccer player like his older siblings, but he sure likes jumping hurdles. Who would have thought?

Not sure where to look? Contact your child’s school for a community referral or search online in your area. While your child is practicing, use that time for your own exercise. How many parents do you see sitting on the sidelines doing nothing? Don’t be that parent! Instead, leverage the time by walking laps or doing calisthenics and easy stretches. Here are three great websites offering easy exercises you can do anywhere. The idea is to pick three to five exercises you know you can handle and do two or three sets of each exercise while your child practices. This way, you both benefit!

Carve out a little QT.

Decide on a special activity that you do together with your child and then reward yourselves afterwards. My 11 year old son loves biking with his dad on weekend mornings. Is it because of the quality time? Yes, of course it is! But the strawberry banana smoothie he gets at the local market at the end of their ride might factor in too. Finding an outside activity, whether it’s throwing the football or walking through a park, can become an anticipated outing if you add a healthy bonus at the end.

Breaking the unhealthy habit of physical inactivity doesn’t have to be unbearable. Start easy and celebrate every success with healthy rewards. Parents who keep their children physically active help them develop healthy exercise habits that follow them into adulthood. All six of our adult and college-aged kids are self-motivated to engage in outside activities whether it’s pickup soccer, coaching middle school wresting, doing yoga or working out at the gym. In other words, all the pushing we did when they were younger has translated into healthy adult habits!

Go on… grab your kids and take a walk!

Additional Resources

Mayo Clinic report on the many benefits of walking.

Check out activities for kids on the American Heart Association website!

See the abstract on the research indicating a global decline in children’s fitness.

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