Get Fit With Your Kids
Here's a workout even the busiest parent can find time to do.
If you have children under 18, sleep is probably much higher on your to-do
list -- you know, the one you never get time to write down -- than an hour at
the gym. You'd like to lose weight and get fit, but it's hard enough just to
fit all your work and family duties into the day. If you're like many of us,
you think you simply don't have time to work out.
The truth, experts say, is that you don't have time not to work
Once you start following a regular fitness routine, you'll actually have
more energy to get through your long list of daily duties. Further, when you
don't move your body, you lose strength and flexibility, says Shirley Archer,
author of The Strength and Toning Deck: 50 Exercises to Shape Your Body.
That can make it even harder to keep up with your kids. Exercise has still more
perks for parents: It can relieve stress, improve your mood, and make you less
likely to become depressed.
Even more important, when you lead an active lifestyle, you help inspire
your children to be active, says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise
physiologist and vice president of educational services for the American
Council on Exercise.
"Our young people are less active than they've ever been," says
Bryant, who estimates the average child spends about 30 hours a week watching
television or playing video games.
The result of all this inactivity (along with too many calories) is evident
in the ever-increasing rates of obesity among young children. Nearly 20% of
children are overweight, Bryant says. High blood pressure and high cholesterol
are showing up in young children. Type 2 diabetes, which is related to obesity,
used to be called "adult-onset diabetes" because it almost never showed
up until early middle age, says Bryant. "Now it's occurring among
children," he says.
But just how do you fit exercise into a nonstop schedule? Well, if you can't
beat them, join them. The answer for many busy parents, experts say, is to
schedule exercise time with your children, not around them.
"It's no longer natural to move. It doesn't happen without us making an
effort," Archer says. "It takes a little bit of strategic thinking to
put activity back in our life.
"Family fitness is a wonderful way to do that."
Ideas for Family Fun
The key is to pick an activity that will work for everyone. The simplest
option is to take a family walk, jog, or bike ride (using a backpack, jogging
stroller, or kiddie seat for the youngest family members).
Experts agree that if you keep exercise fun and varied, you're more likely
to keep at it. So here are some other suggestions:
- Bond with baby. Many gyms and rec centers offer fitness programs
designed for new mothers and their babies. For some, you place the baby beside
you on a mat and include him or her in some of the exercises. For others, baby
stays in a stroller.
If you're more comfortable exercising at home, Archer suggests using your
infant as a prop or weight during floor exercises (you can find some exercise
videos that demonstrate this). For example, put the baby on your chest and do
- Get wet. People often think the pool is only for doing laps, but
there are lots of ways to exercise in the water. Diving, doing headstands, and
playing Marco Polo are all ways of getting exercise while having fun with your
family. In a private pool, you can set up a net for a game of volleyball.
- Play time. Keep the focus on fun when you're exercising, says
Archer. Try playing games that incorporate movement, such as Simon Says,
Capture the Flag, hopscotch, jump rope, Hide and Seek, even water gun fights.
With younger kids, head for a playground and climb the monkey bars, zip down
the slides, hit the swings, and play chase.
- Boogie down. Lots of kids like to dance, and it can be great
exercise, too. Archer says both parents and children take hip-hop dance classes
at the Stanford Prevention Research Center where she works. If you're shy, just
crank up the tunes in the privacy of your home and groove around the living
- Stretch it out. If you're not big on dancing, try a yoga video or
"mommy and me" yoga class. With their natural flexibility, many kids
are good at yoga. It also can help relieve stress, so it's great for mom and
- Make tracks. Older kids might enjoy running or brisk walking, but if
that bores them, try climbing, hiking, or rollerblading. If you live in an area
that offers scenic places to hike, you won't even notice you're exercising
(pack a healthy picnic to have at the end of the trail and bring plenty of
water). Younger kids can ride their tricycles or bikes around a community track
while you walk or jog.
- Be a sport. Taking up a sport can add a whole new dimension to your
family fun, whether it's tennis, volleyball, or just a driveway basketball
showdown. Consider taking lessons together if you're new to the sport.
"Martial arts [are] a great cross-generational activity," Archer