Getting your kids active may seem like yet another chore on your busy schedule, but it’s worth it.
If you have school-age kids, then you know how challenging juggling schedules can be. Sometimes it feels difficult to get to all your currently scheduled activities, much less fit in yet one more thing.
So when experts suggest scheduling time for family exercise, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the suggestion. But this one is worth the time, not only for the health of your children, but for the whole family, as well. Plus, setting aside time for regular exercise is good for everyone’s mental health as well as their physical health.
“Getting the entire family active is a win-win,” says Sarah Messiah, Ph.D, MPH. pediatrics and public health expert at the University of Miami Health System. “Parents benefit just as much from being active. It can help alleviate the stress that often comes with trying to maintain the work-life balance, for example. Additionally, taking a walk or run,or going to the gym together creates opportunities to open lines of communication with your older adolescent and teen and sets a great example for younger children.”
With that sentiment in mind, we sought out the easiest ways for modern families to incorporate exercise into their packed daily schedules.
1) Save screens for after exercise
Sure, we’re all tired after a long day of work and school. But the tendency to fall backward into our devices after a busy day is a dangerous habit. To break out of the rut, make the screen time something your kids (and you) have to earn by taking a walk around the neighborhood, a quick game of hoops, or some other opportunity to catch up as a family.
“Screens are a daily part of life for everyone, and every child should have a chance to unwind and have some downtime,” says Dr. Messiah. “As parents, we can also take advantage of this time to learn about how our child’s day went and see if there is anything else they’d like to talk about. However, parents should try and limit a screen session to 30 minutes. Have you heard the saying that sitting is the new smoking? It is because blood pressure starts to rise in as little as 15 minutes of sitting. So it is best to get up and move around at least every 30 minutes for healthy heart development.”
2) Make it a challenge
It’s only human nature to be more engaged in an activity if there’s a challenge involved. And with the widespread use of fitness trackers, smart watches and phones, it’s easier than ever for families to track their steps, intensity minutes, or other fitness metrics on a weekly basis and see who comes out on top. Many fitness apps even allow you to create challenges, so they can do the math and create the leaderboard for you.
“Many fitness trackers are inexpensive and can track your family’s fitness goals over time,” says Dr. Messiah. “They are also great for other health goals that are important for overall health, such as sleep time and quality, average resting heart rate, amount of liquids consumed during the day to avoid dehydration and so on.”
3) Make chores a family affair
All too often these days, parents are the ones pulling weeds, picking up sticks and taking out the trash while kids are on the couch, on their screens. Fortunately, this is an easy habit to break. All it takes is a chore chart and a dedication to spreading the work around, and everyone can be knocking out chores as a family. Children will get the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done — and everyone will get done with their chores much faster.
“Being healthy isn’t just about going to the gym or going for a walk or run daily,” says Messiah. “It is much more about how active you are each hour during the day. For example, studies have shown that if a person goes to the gym or participates on other fitness activities for an hour a day but then sits for the majority of the rest of their waking hours, they are actually less healthy than the person who did not do the hour activity but was moving around each hour of the day they were awake. So, the point is try and get up and active for at least 15 minutes of each hour – this can include house chores! If you have tweens or teens, a great way for them to stay active and also make some money is to let the neighbors know they are available to walk their dog or mow their lawn.”
4) Create some goals
Having a goal is a surefire way to inject some enthusiasm into a family exercise routine. Perhaps your family can have a goal of doing a hike they’ve always wanted to do, or even running a 5K together. Whether it’s a collective family goal or individual goals, having an objective and working toward it is sure to jump-start your family’s activities.
“It seems like every weekend there is at least one 5K event going on around town,” says Dr. Messiah. “Most are for charities, which are a great way to support causes your family believes in while supporting your family’s health at the same time. While planning the family vacation, think of places to go that can incorporate fun and maybe new activities the entire family can enjoy together.”
5) Try something new
Sometimes it just takes a little shakeup to break a family out of the exercise rut. By trying a new activity (Tennis? Bowling? Mini golf?), going on a new adventure (Kayaking? Hiking?) or starting a new project (A vegetable garden?), you can engage your entire family’s brains and bodies in something entirely new. And that’s sure to not only get them moving, but also stimulate some new and interesting conversations among the whole family.
“The point is, being active should be fun,” says Messiah. “Children from a young age will learn to love to be active if they truly enjoy it and this should always be a priority. There are endless activities to introduce your children to that can be practiced throughout the lifetime, so you are giving them not only the gift of health during childhood, but you are creating healthy habits that can last a lifetime.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.