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A Healthy Family

Description

Getting physically active as a family can yield benefits that go far beyond improved physical health.

Question

My husband and I are interested in becoming more physically active, and the more we think about it the more we want to involve our children (ages 5, 7, and 9) in our activity. Can you think of some good ways to do this?

Answer

Good for you for increasing your activity level, and kudos for planning to get your children involved! The great thing about getting physically active as a family is that it can yield benefits that go far beyond improved physical health.

Activity shared among family can be a perfect occasion for bonding and greater closeness. This is most easily achieved when the emphasis is on fun, relationships, achieving personal goals, and reaping the benefits of physical fitness. If, however, the focus shifts to things like who is the fastest or strongest, chances are good that one or more of your children will become discouraged.

One of the great things about being physically active together is that you model as a family what it means to take part in a healthy lifestyle. The importance of healthy living is becoming more and more apparent these days as scientists continue to document the effects obesity and sedentary habits are having on our kids. Obesity-related diseases that used to be common only in adults—type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea—are now being seen regularly by pediatricians. Additionally, social problems, poor self-esteem, and increased risk of depression tend to follow these children as well.

A word of caution: No matter how you plan to introduce the subject of physical activity or motivate your children to join you in your increasingly active lifestyle, if one of your children is slightly overweight or even obese, do not resort to body-shaming or harp on the need to lose weight. This sort of approach is often demotivational. It can also lead to body image problems in both boys and girls.

Now, if you try to convince your kids to become more active in order to avoid a whole laundry list of health hazards, both now and later in life, your efforts probably won’t make much of an impact. After all, consequential thinking isn’t well developed in children. However, enjoyment and rewards can be huge motivators. Look for activities that everyone can enjoy. You may have to try a number of activities to find one or two things that everyone will be on-board with, but it will be worth it. Ideas may include bowling, hiking, walking local trails together (and discovering new ones), bicycling, walking the dog, swimming, playing catch or mini-golf. Even going to the local park and playing on the jungle gym together can be a fun bonding time that benefits personal health.

By the way, while current recommendations state that children should get 60 minutes of physical activity each day, that doesn’t mean that you have to be right along with them the whole time. By becoming more active yourselves and by including your kids in some fun physical activities, you’re modeling a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that will produce benefits for your kids and your family for years to come.

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