It is well known that regular exercise is crucial to good health. However, that need not mean arduous time spent laboring in a sweaty gym or an expensive monthly membership fee. Families can combine exercise and fun, which promotes health and an atmosphere of togetherness. It need not be overly expensive; in fact, you may already be paying for some options, like On Demand’s Exercise TV channel. Existing memberships to zoos or museums also offer no-cost alternatives to exercise as a family. Alternatively, your local YMCA’s roster of activities may appeal to your family; most YMCAs offer a sliding pay scale for families who need financial assistance.
The impact of spending leisure time behind an electronic screen, as so many of today’s children do, has been conservatively estimated at 10% of the U.S. annual expenditure for health care. Inactivity is directly linked to coronary heart disease, obesity, bone fractures, hypertension and many cancers. While there is a time and place for relaxation, it should be balanced with equal amounts of fresh air and exercise. Be careful to model these choices as behaviors that promote optimal health versus dieting for appearances’ sake, as impressionable children already receive negative messaging from society about body size.
As parents, you can encourage your child to participate in group sports at school or your local park district; children who play sports are known to have better social skills, more confidence and a greater likelihood of success as adults. Exercise helps children build healthy muscle and bone, control weight, reduce anxiety and stress and increase endurance. Many students attending college on sports scholarships can attest to the significant financial benefit of athleticism, as well.
For children and adults who do not find enjoyment in group sports, many activities done solo can provide the same benefits. Running, biking, hiking, rollerblading, windsurfing or simply batting a tennis ball against a garage door all provide cardiovascular exercise in the outdoors. As in other aspects of good health, parents who exercise regularly set an example to children that exercise is a normal part of daily life.
There are a number of great ways to get physical exercise as a family, and with children of any age. Consider the following ideas, and supervise as necessary:
- Provide toys that require physical activity, such as hula hoops, jump ropes, a frisbee or a trampoline
- Provide gear for an activity the whole family can enjoy, such as bicycling or rollerblading, or install a basketball hoop in your driveway
- Participate in seasonal outdoor activities; join a pool or tennis club in the summertime and go ice skating or sledding during winter months
- Hike on local trails as a family
- Take a 30-minute walk after dinner several times a week
- Do yard work as a family and then encourage your kids to dig in the dirt and jump in the leaves
- Crank up the tunes when doing housework and encourage children to dance while they work.
- Have a water balloon fight
- Have children carry in the groceries
- Make a silly family movie with lots of action and play
- Provide children with inexpensive cameras and challenge them to take photos of outdoor creatures
- Create a scavenger hunt
- Take your children places that require walking, such as the local zoo or museum
- Walk your kids to school
Activity in any form is crucial to good health, whether by working out at a fancy gym or taking a low-key after-dinner walk with your family. Healthier families stay on the move, and children in families that exercise together learn that staying active can be fun as well as healthy.