By Charity Curley Mathews
Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger used to promise us kids a special certificate from school if we did 100 push-ups in a row during gym? Well, it's not all jumping jacks and gray sweatpants these days -- but you still gotta move if you want to feel good. How much, you say? According to Let's Move, today's national fitness program, kids should get a total of 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and adults need 30.
Here's why it matters, especially for the kids: Childhood obesity rates have tripled since the '80s, and at this rate, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. And let's not mention heart disease, asthma and tons of other largely preventable weight-related ailments.
Besides, exercise just feels good -- and don't you think most family outings could use a bit more of that? So ditch the minivan and the trip to Chuck E. Cheese and head outside! Believe it or not, your kids will thank you: Endorphins plus fresh air and a fun family experience equals a refreshing way to get in better shape -- and you don't need to chase over-caffeinated children all over a noisy pizza arcade to do it. And with that said, here are six ways to move it, shake it and make exercise packed with family fun.
Walk the walk. If your crew usually heads to the couch after dinner, make them save their favorite show to the DVR and take a walk instead. Not long, not far, but make sure you get outside and let your meal digest while you stroll. If you're in a city, walk around the block; suburban dwellers can make tracks around the cul-de-sac. The point is simple: fresh air and a few steps together.
What you need: Comfy shoes for sure. A stroller is optional. If it makes life fun, bring bikes, Razor scooters, roller skates and the dog, too -- anything that brings a smile to your party on the go.
Make screen time smarter. Stop begging the kids to put away the video games... and play with them instead! Fire up the Wii and compete with classics like "Bowling," or bust a move with "Just Dance." Families with wee ones will love "Mario Kart" and "Wii Fit." Even "Rock Band" will get you up and out of your seat, which is the whole idea. More into watching plain ol' TV? Make it a goal (or competition) to jump up during commercials; whoever gets up first -- and stays on his or her feet for the duration of the commercial break -- wins.
Admittedly, a Nintendo Wii is an investment, but if you're game (see what we did there?), it's easy to find refurbished models for less than half the price of the latest and greatest.
Take a hike. When the weather is warm, there's nothing like an adventure in the great outdoors. National Geographic recently touted the Sourdough Ridge Trail at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State as one of the best family-friendly hikes in the U.S. They called it a "mini-adventure through flower-filled meadows" and "a great way to introduce kids to the beauty of the high country." Whether you're trekking in snow-capped mountains or your local state park, it's hard to beat the call of the wild -- even if you're doing it with a Baby Bjorn.
Speaking of which, if you're hiking with small children, you'll need an aluminum-framed baby backpack; look for one with a sun visor, water bottle pocket and a design that allows you to set the pack down with the child still sitting inside. Bring a bandana that you can soak in water for quick cool downs, plus some dried fruit to nosh on. (It's the single best snack to bring on hikes, because it won't melt or turn to dust if someone accidentally crushes the pack with his hiking boot.)
Strike a pose. If the wilds aren't for you, stay inside and stretch. Family yoga is huge now -- and that means your options are, too. Many studios offer family workouts, including partner poses and group discounts. You can get your Downward-Facing Dog on at home, too: There are kid-friendly cards with adorably illustrated yoga poses, illustrated books for kids and of course DVDs on yoga for families designed to guide your group through Tree Pose and Warrior Pose, too.
All you'll need is loose, stretchable clothing and a mat (a folded beach towel will work). If you do yoga at home, don't get hung up on whether the kids are doing the moves right, or even doing all of them at all. Let them imitate you the way they want to. Chances are you'll be amazed at their flexibility.
Run through the mud. Mud runs are everywhere -- you know, runs where you slip on a costume and slide through miles of muddy terrain? Many of them are also open to families. A single online search for "family mud run" resulted in pages of events happening all over the country this year. Moms and dads are Running the Ridge in Schenectady, New York, where "features built by diabolical minds (are) ready to test you and your mud-running skills." And families are getting dirty for charity in Pennsylvania: The Kids' Peace 5K Family Fun Mud Run takes place on a 250-acre campus that includes a sandpit crawl, cargo-net climb, Slip 'N Slide and of course a mud pit. If your family and your washing machine can take it, sign up for something near you now.
Necessary: Running shoes. Costumes are optional. Just make sure both are things you don't mind getting dirty. Skip the sports drinks but do bring water bottles. Consider having a family T-shirt or team bottles made up. Bring a fresh set of clothes (including shoes) for everyone, along with a plastic bag to store the dirties in for the ride home.
Hit the surf. Imagine yourself on a surfboard, ripping through the waves under a tropical sun. Now picture your kids splashing and smiling on their boards all the way to the shore. Truth? Surfing is wicked hard. But it's also a total adventure, and one that's now catering to families. And you don't have to head to Hawaii to do it (though you certainly could): Family surfing packages are popping up all over, from Costa Rica to the more local shores of California and North Carolina. Packages include room, board and some of the best instructors around (see "wicked hard" above).
Word to the wise: Spring for a rash-guard shirt and the thickest SPF you can find. Then just hang loose like it's 1989, duuude.