According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, if one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that their children will also be obese. But when exercise becomes part of the family culture, everyone wins.
There are several tips to keep in mind when it comes to kids and exercise. First, most young kids prefer "activities" to conventional exercise — for example, they're more likely to do a nature hike than run laps around a track. Second, as kids get older, they're more apt to become engaged if their friends are invited. And third, many kids are very motivated by goals, targets, and tracking progress. Watch how your child responds to different activities and scenarios, and find the best ways to make fitness easy and natural for him or her to enjoy.
Here are 10 ways to turn exercise into a regular family activity that's fun, motivating, and healthy.
Pick the right time. Plan your workouts for a time with the highest probability that everyone will actually do them. After dinner is a great time for a family walk, game of badminton, or workout DVD, because you're all together. After school is also a great time for kids who've been sitting all day and have a lot of pent-up energy.
Vary it. Adults often forget that play is exercise. If you take a walk one day, go bowling the next. Work, such as gardening or stacking wood, is also exercise. Don't limit your idea of exercise to going to the gym. Anything that gets your family moving together counts.
Track it. Mark the calendar every time you do an activity, and keep track of your progress. It's very motivating to see how often everyone is exercising. If your kid responds to competition, keep a chart of games won, best times, miles cycled, and so on. Tracking is a good way to make new fitness-oriented behaviors stick.
Give me five. If getting the kids to commit to exercising is difficult, tell them you're only going to do it for five minutes — long enough to at least break a small sweat. Doing a five-minute bike ride or a five-minute jog is easy for anyone. Most likely, it will turn into 10.
Get outside. Make it a habit to get the family out in nature. An easy way to do this is to swap an indoor workout session with an outdoor one. Playing a backyard game or walking around the block delivers a motivational twofer. Not only will the exercise make everyone feel better, but fresh air and sunshine are mood boosters as well.
Do it for a cause. If you're a family of couch potatoes, sometimes a good cause can get you motivated. Research which local organizations are hosting fund-raising walks — and then get your friends and relatives to sponsor your family. If you can't find one, organize your own walk for a cause such as your kid's PTA or Little League.
Schedule it. Kids and adults alike respond well to a structured schedule. Set a time and place for your family activity and write it on the family calendar. Ask everyone to commit to your fitness appointment. If you've scheduled a bike ride but the weather is uncooperative, then turn on the Wii and play tennis indoors, or blast some music and have a dance competition.
Put it in writing. Write a three-month contract with family members and have everyone sign it. If weight loss is a goal, write down a reasonable goal (no more than six pounds a month). Sign it and keep it in a place where all family members can see it.
Get their input. Ask your kids to take charge of the family exercise schedule for a week — and promise that you'll do whatever they choose. You'll probably be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with. You can also rotate weekly — every family member gets to be the chooser for a week.
Think outside the box. Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't go swimming. Find a nearby hotel chain and ask how much an hour of indoor pool costs. Or do an activity you've never done — such as learning to rock climb at a climbing gym, or riding horses. Parents vs. kids competitions are always a hit. So are "old-fashioned" games like Twister, jump rope, and kick the can.