By Debbe Geiger
Being active comes naturally to Alexander Bruni. When he’s not playing soccer, karate or T-ball, the 5-year-old is at the park with his dad, kicking balls around, playing tag or hitting a few baseballs. While they have fun together, Paul Bruni says he also teaches Alexander a valuable lesson: exercise is fun, and it’s an important part of daily life. “Kids are like sponges that absorb everything,” says Bruni, who owns a personal training studio. “My son sees his dad and mom exercising all the time. Even at a young age, we’d put him in the baby jogger and take him for power walks or jogs. I’d go rollerblading. Although he wasn’t doing anything physical, it laid the foundation for what would become part of his lifestyle. It was a fun experience for him, and he spent time with Mommy and Daddy.”
“The key is letting your child know that having an active lifestyle and staying healthy is a fun choice,” says Kathe Burlage, a fitness instructor. That’s important since obesity rates are still on the rise for kids and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight. The CDC reports that 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 – 11) and 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 – 19) are considered overweight. That’s double the amount of overweight children and teens from two decades ago.
That’s where you come in. “Parents have to role model that activities are fun,” says Marino. Kids “don’t just pick up on what you say. They pick up on what you do. If you don’t want to walk, swim or ride a bike, the kids don’t want to do it either.” So, it’s time to get your family moving. Here are suggestions for achieving this goal and for making fitness a fun lifestyle choice for your family:
• Be democratic. Forcing kids to take part in activities they don’t enjoy causes rebellion, says Bruni. Discuss the activities they’d like to pursue and offer suggestions like hiking, biking, bowling or golf. Be sure to keep them age-appropriate.
• Set aside specific days for different activities. Grab a ball on Monday and head for the park. Spend Tuesdays biking around the neighborhood. Make a walk your Wednesday activity and go for a family swim on Sundays. Continuity makes habits easy to form.
• Join a family-friendly community center or health club. More health clubs are open to the idea of families working out together, says Brooke MacInnis, a spokesperson for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Some clubs offer parent-child classes — for everything from stroller aerobics to spinning — or family nights. Find out what’s offered near you by contacting your local community center.
• Try a youth program. Girl or Boy Scouts often encourage kids to earn badges promoting fitness. In many cases, parents are expected to get involved on hikes, camping trips and other physical adventures.
• Check out something new. Whether it’s yoga, karate, skiing or learning to skateboard, broaden your child’s horizons by introducing yourselves to new activities to be done together.
• Recognize exercise in every form. Take everyday chores like gardening, shoveling or even doing the laundry and turn them into family exercises that get your heart pumping and your feet moving.
• Set up an obstacle course. Jump through hula hoops, crawl under lawn chairs, jump rope five times, climb over a slide. Let your child use his imagination to create a course in your backyard, and then time each other. You’ll improve motor coordination, gain confidence and build a sense of competence at the same time.
By Debbe Geiger