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He Ain't Heavy

Exercising with kids.

Harnessing the Imagination continued...

A sense of playfulness, he says, is crucial. "Try tag games," he says. "Or do agility exercises around the child." Instead of running around a cone, he explained, make your child stand still and run around him or her. Or if your kids are a little older, play fetch with them. "The kids throw the ball, and you have to retrieve it as quickly as possible."

At our local park, I invented a game of tag, in which I had to repeatedly tag each of my big girls, one after the other. They soon learned to spread the field and make me work. Sheila King, MS, who coordinates a program in fitness instruction for the University of California Los Angeles Extension, had another idea. "Kids need to see you being active," she says. "So run around the perimeter of the park. Every fifteen minutes, run to the sandbox to say hi to the kids."

And if there's a sudden crisis, a tumble off the low slide or a sand-throwing incident? "Then it becomes interval training," King says with a laugh.

A Gym Is Where You Find It

What's more, you can always use the playground equipment for your own workout. Marianne Goulding, MS, who served as resident expert for the popular videotapes Mom-O-Rama Workout With Baby and Mom-O-Rama Workout With Toddler (Brainstormes Unlimited, Inc.), suggested doing chin-ups on the monkey bars, step-ups onto a slide, and triceps dips using a bench.

I was skeptical, but I found that the playground's colorful structures worked surprisingly well as a makeshift gym. Every playground is different, of course, so you have to be creative. Mine had swinging grips, like gymnasts' rings, that I used for pull-ups and a series of toadstool-like stepping-stones that I used for triceps dips.

The only problem with this kind of workout is that some of the other parents tend to cast suspicious looks over their take-out coffees. Fortunately, the kids remain unfazed. As I did my dips recently, two youngsters came over to inquire. My explanation sounded shaky. But they soon joined in, and I found myself competing for the toadstools.

In fact, the possibilities are practically endless as long as you are willing to experiment -- and to adjust your goals a bit. "Fitness does not need to be counted in sets and reps," says Elizabeth Trindade, who has conducted "Strollercize" classes in New York's Central Park since 1993. "I personally believe that once you have children, the days of perfect fitness are over. That life is gone. This is the new one."

It's never easy to start a new life. I admit it would be nice to break away for solitary, carefree runs once in a while -- to experience an occasional 30 or 45 minutes of blessed irresponsibility. But having children, after all, is a lesson in compromises.

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