Fit families are healthy families who have an active lifestyle. Frequently, they enjoy the things they do together, and the things they do together foster better communication and closer relationships than watching TV does.
Family fitness takes some parental commitment, leadership, and imagination, and you may have to listen to a lot of grousing and whining to start with, but the entire family will benefit as a result. Five factors that affect your family fitness plan are cost, convenience, family-friendly environment, fun, and success.
Family fitness doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, you can drop a couple of hundred dollars or more taking the family skiing. But you can find a slope and sled down it on plastic trash bags for free. Most communities have free or low-cost family activities at community centers or parks. Check your local newspaper or parks and recreation department, and use your imagination to come up with activities your family can do together that don’t break the bank.
Families are busy, and convenience is essential to a family fitness plan. If you have to go through a lot of hassle or travel a long way on a regular basis, you won’t follow through. Plan activities that you can do in your own backyard or neighborhood, like play Frisbee. You can also stay home to rake up leaves and jump in them, or make snow angels in the winter months. If you join a club or team, make it one that’s convenient to get to, and one the entire family can be a part of. Joining a bowling league is a great way to keep the family involved.
When you join a club or plan an activity, make sure your whole family is welcome. It’s not much fun to look forward to an outing, and then discover that your kids are the only ones there. You want an appropriate environment for young children, too, where they will be safe and not exposed to “adult” language or behavior.
Fun is the key to successful family fitness. If everybody has fun, you’ll all want to do it again. Ask the kids what kind of activities they enjoy. You could even let them choose some family activities and help with the planning. Have a family meeting, and come up with a list of activities your family wants to try.
In addition to making sure your family fitness activities are fun, you can make sure your family fun activities center around fitness. Take everybody miniature golfing for a birthday instead of having a cake-and-ice-cream party. Celebrate Independence Day by going on a 10K walk together (which you’ll have to train for together). Walk around your neighborhood at Christmas and enjoy the lights, or sing carols. Bring fun and activity together as often as you can, and you and your kids will begin to associate an active lifestyle with having fun.
Every member of your family needs to feel successful at whatever activities your family chooses. They don’t all have to be good at the activity as long as they enjoy it and feel good about themselves doing it. Family fitness can become an unhealthy competition that leaves less athletic family members feeling like failures, and that can defeat the purpose. Choose activities that everybody can participate in and enjoy at least moderate success at.
When our families pursue fitness together, we benefit in other ways, too. Your kids will remember and treasure family camping trips, going swimming together, and having family snowball fights. You’re building good health habits and good childhood memories at the same time, and the whole family is having fun doing it.
10 Family Exercise Tips
It’s 6:30 on a Friday night. You and your family just polished off a large pepperoni pizza and box of breadsticks. You’re ready to relax – watch a movie, take a bath or anything to celebrate the end of another week. As your family begins to scatter in all different directions, you glance outside and realize the day is far from over. Amongst groans, you persuade everyone to go outside for a walk.
This is the scenario Barbara J. Moore would like to see more of. She is the president of Shape Up America!, a national initiative designed to promote healthy weight and physical activity in America. The organization publishes a booklet called 99 Tips for Family Fitness Fun. In it, Moore says exercising as a family is a central focus. “Walking is a perfectly acceptable physical activity,” she says. “Strategies should be developed so that parents plan to go walking with their kids.”
Moore says family walks are traditional across Europe, but it’s not emphasized in the United States. “It’s something we need to think about more because of the problem with obesity in children and certainly in adults as well,” she says. Moore agrees families are often busier in today’s society, but she says it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to exercise.
Two Problems, One Solution
Barry Kipnes was a physical education teacher and basketball coach in Massachusetts for more than 30 years before he retired a few years ago. Over the years, Kipnes noticed a decline in the amount of time families spend together. He knew about the obesity epidemic in America among adults and children and thought there had to be away to address the two problems together. “I thought we could choose fitness and activity as a vehicle to bring families together,” he says
He wrote a 31-page pamphlet entitled, Family Workout Booklet to show families how to adapt a family fitness program. Most of the booklet is devoted to show families how to set up a fitness program of their own. “It’s not just to say the words,” he says. “I want the family to find a common bond to exercise together.”
A Word About Cost
Michael Spezzano is a national health and fitness consultant with the YMCA. He says places like the YMCA cater to the family, but family fitness doesn’t necessarily have to involve a health club membership. “It doesn’t have to cost anything,” he says. “It could be going to a local park or playing a sport together. It could be going on hikes or biking. It’s just spending time together.”
Family fitness classes can work, but the class needs to be designed with the family in mind, Spezzano says. For example, he doesn’t suggest families take children into an adult-oriented exercise class. Instead, families should look for parent-child classes that have incorporated the family fitness element.
More says many families face the dilemma of being too busy to be active with kids, but the issue is too important to be ignored. She says children learn from example and parents need to take the initiative to make exercise a habit for the entire family. “This is a critical issue,” she says. “This is a health issue for kids and it’s a health issue for adults. Strategies need to be developed.”
Best Tips to a Healthier Family
1. Parent-child classes: Check out your local park and recreation department or fitness facility for family-fitness classes. Parent and child fitness classes like yoga and kickboxing are popping across the country. If you can’t find one, talk to someone at these facilities and let them know you’re interested. It could lead to one being created.
2. Swimming: Find out when open swim time is at an area pool. University, high school and community swimming pools usually have open swim times for the public. The price is usually minimal and swimming is a good exercise for the entire family.
3. Join a gym: Many fitness facilities will allow older children in the weight room or on the exercise equipment with parent supervision. Make sure to join a family-friendly facility, which usually has parent and child activities.
4. Martial arts: Check out the area martial art facilities and sign up to learn karate, judo, etc. as a family.
5. Let your kids help make the decision. Children are more likely to participate in something if they are involved in helping pick it out. Instead of telling them what you’re going to do as a family, let them help make the decision.
6. Cycling: It’s time to dust off your bicycles and find an area riding trail. It’s inexpensive and provides great exercise.
7. Walk: It sounds simple, but walking is really an easy activity families can do together. Walk around the neighborhood or go to an area park. If you get ambitious, try hiking.
8. Television: Use the television to your advantage by buying a fitness DVD. There’s plenty on the market to choose from and you can do it as a family.
9. Hold one another accountable. Create a chart to track your family’s progress. If it’s out in the open where everyone can see it, you are more likely to encourage one another to succeed.
10. Reward yourself. Set a goal and once you achieve it, do something to celebrate. For example, if your family makes a pledge to exercise five out of seven days for the next 12 weeks, reward yourself once you reach the end. But remember to reward your family in healthy ways. Spend the night at a hotel with a pool. Plan a special hiking trip. Go to a hands-on museum.