Looking for a great way to get everyone moving? Train as a family to walk or run a 5K race.
Think about all the benefits: Working together toward a common goal helps keep everyone motivated to move. When you move more, your family will feel better mentally and physically. That helps everyone avoid unhealthy choices, like eating junk food. Your family will start to see the difference in the way healthy food makes them feel, giving them the energy they need to walk or run. And people who get exercise sleep better. What’s not to love?
If your family isn't all that active, give yourselves about 6-8 weeks to get ready. Find a "fun run" for your first race. These 5Ks are usually family- and kid-friendly with a mix of walkers and runners. Check at community centers, YMCAs or gyms, churches, running clubs, or online.
Once you have the race date set, post a chart on the fridge so family members can track their progress and see the countdown to the big day.
Whether you run or walk will depend partly on how fit your family is, and partly on the age of your kids. To run, kids should probably be at least 7 or 8 years old. If your goal is to walk the race and have fun, kids of any age can take part. Toddlers and younger children may have to jump in a stroller now and then. Check on any age rules or stroller guidelines set by the race organizer.
Remember, your real goal is to help your family fall in love with physical activity and make it a life-long habit.
"It's about being active in life. Start early and they'll get excited about it. It's not about the exercise," says exercise physiologist Anthony Wall. He is director of professional education for the American Council on Exercise. "It's about doing something as a family that's active and enjoyable."
How to Make It Fun
When you talk to your family about the 5K, be sure to talk about how it's fun; not that it's something they have to do.
"Don’t frame it as exercise. You're training them at a young age to think that exercise isn’t a chore. Frame it as 'let's go out for a run, a walk, or go to the playground,'" says Karen Morice, MD. She works for the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
"You want to build up their endurance. You can do that in a lot of ways -- not just walking all the time. Whatever kind of activity gets them moving around for a sustained period of time."
Remember, if it's your first time, give yourselves about 6-8 weeks to get ready. Here's a week-by-week training guide.
Week 1: Walk 3 days, not in a row (for example: Saturday, Monday, Wednesday), for 15-20 minutes each time. Encourage the kids to bounce a ball when they walk, or count the red cars, to make it fun.
Week 2: Walk 3 days, not in a row, for 20 minutes each time. If your goal is to run the 5K, then start to switch between running and walking. Walk 2-3 minutes, then run 30 seconds.
Week 3: Walk 3 days, not in a row, for 30 minutes each time. If your plan is to run the race, keep switching between running and walking: maybe 2 minutes walking, 1 minute running, then 2 minutes walking. Increase the amount of time you run instead of walk, if you can.
Week 4 until the week before your race: Walk 3 days, not in a row, for 30 minutes each time. If you plan to run the 5K, switch between running and walking, spending more time running than walking.
Week of the race: Take 3 days off before the race.
Use this as a guideline, but be flexible. Even if you're not very active, you should be able to walk slowly for 15 minutes to start. If that's too much, walk a few minutes, then take a break to stand or sit for a few minutes, then keep going, says Morice.
To be healthy, your kids should move for 60 minutes every day. Adults should aim to move for 30 minutes on most days. It doesn't have to be all at once. Your training can count towards this goal.
Add other activities -- like biking, swimming, or just playing hard on the playground -- to the mix instead of walking, so no one gets bored. Let kids help come up with activities.
"Keep increasing the run time if you can, but make sure your family is all together and having fun," says Wall.
That means not pushing kids too hard. If they want to stop, let them.
"Pay attention to the cues that they're giving you if they're tired. Adults will push ourselves beyond what we're supposed to do, but kids are much better at paying attention to their bodies," Morice says. "You want them to enjoy what they're doing and not feel like this is something they're forced to do, and then be in a mindset where they don’t like exercise."
Tips to Keep in Mind
Get everyone involved -- Let kids help chart out the routes you'll take. They can pick favorite parks or neighborhoods, or older kids can map out routes by distance or time. Let them decide which activity -- biking, swimming, dancing -- they want to do each time you move.
Eat and drink smart -- Drink water before, during, and after your workout. There's no need for sports drinks (unless you’re working hard and sweating for an hour or more). You don't need to load up on carbohydrates like pasta the night before the race either. A well-rounded healthy diet -- that includes lots of fruits and vegetables which are healthy carbs -- will give everyone enough energy to make it to the finish line.
On race day, bring healthy snacks -- low-sugar granola bars, nuts and raisins, for example -- for after the finish line (or even for snacks during the race if you have young kids).
Keep going -- After the race is over, plan another one so everyone stays motivated to move. Look for flyers at the race and choose your next one. Want to try something else? Sign up for a family fitness class or just continue your regular walks, bike rides, and swims. Do whatever keeps you moving and having fun!