Fitness for the Entire Family

12**Article originally posted on health and fitness site AliveByNature.com

To make group workouts work, you’ll need to be willing to compromise. Instead of a fast-paced solo run, you may have to walk or jog with a stroller designed to cushion your child from high-velocity bumps. Once an infant has sufficient head control (usually after the first year), you can put him in an infant seat on the back of your bike (both of you must wear helmets, however). Many local YMCA’s and health clubs also offer special postpartum exercise classes for mothers and babies.

As kids get older, they can exercise along with you, at least some of the time. To head off frustration, pick something that’s within everyone’s capability, such as walking. Once kids are six years old, they may be able to keep pace on treks of about a mile. Younger children can ride bikes or skate alongside adults (both activities require helmets; skaters should also wear protective knee and wrist pads).

Around age five, children usually develop sufficient hand-eye coordination to learn the fundamentals of sports—throwing and catching a ball, shooting a basket, kicking a soccer ball or hitting a tennis ball. While you don’t want to be an overbearing coach, some at-home preparation will serve your children well as they enter school and are introduced to physical education classes. “A lot of physed teachers don’t teach kids basic sports skills; they just choose up teams,” says psychologist James Sallis of San Diego State University. “If you gently coach kids beforehand, they’ll have more confidence when they start playing, which can make the experience more positive.”

For the most part, though, the best way to encourage kids to be active is to put a limit on sedentary behavior (turn off the TV) and make sure they have a safe place to run around. Take them to a park (you can jog while they climb the monkey bars), or if there’s no one home for kids after school, arrange for an outdoor play date or a ride to activities and team practices.
Keep in mind too that from a fitness standpoint, free play can be as good as organized sports. “Little League baseball and Pop Warner football may not be as health-building as a vigorous game of tag,” says orthopedic surgeon Lyle Micheli, director of the sports medicine division at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Also, the emphasis on winning and losing can turn off the less athletically inclined. That’s why noncompetitive activities that emphasize individual improvement, such as martial arts or hiking, can be a good alternative for some children (and adults).

But the best fitness choices are those that come naturally, whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or joining your children in a game of tag. Not only will you reap the benefits, but your kids will too. And that legacy of good health and fitness is one of the most valuable gifts you can pass on.

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