Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Get Fit as a Family With These 7 Tips

January is National Family Fit Lifestyle Month.  Based on health statistics, getting families involved in fitness should be a high priority:
  • According to statistics, more than 10 percent of young children in the U.S. are obese.
  • Between 15 and 25 percent of U.S. school children are overweight, a recent Surgeon General report states.
  • And the trend is disconcerting; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
This alarming trend puts today’s children at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure in the coming years.

Advantages of fitness as a family

Getting fit can be done as a solo venture.  But there are several reasons why family fitness activities may be the better way to go.
  • Influence: We are affected by our environment, whether it’s negative or positive. When the kids see Mom and Dad regularly getting up early to go for a walk, or see their parents eating healthier, they notice this “new norm” and are more likely to perceive this fitter lifestyle as simply the way things should be.
  • Accountability: When fitness is a family effort, you create a sense of responsibility to one another, just as joining a running or cycling group creates accountability, which increases your likelihood of being consistent with your workout.
  • Togetherness: In the typical modern family, getting time together is often difficult.  A shared activity that happens to be physically beneficial can help you spend time together while simultaneously improving health.  So, instead of going to a movie or ordering a pizza for family TV night, try one of the family fitness ideas below.

Seven Ideas for Building family fitness

Creating a more fit family can be fun! The following ideas show how.  For any of the suggested team sport activities that require more participants than you have in your family, partner up with another family from your church or in your neighborhood to create friendly competition. 
Idea #1 – Take a healthy cooking class together
Many communities having cooking schools or health supermarkets that have a calendar of cooking classes. If there’s no minimum age, sign up as a family and learn new healthy food preparation techniques together.
Idea #2 – Go on family walks, family hikes
Make a habit of taking a Sunday family stroll.  Walking is something that just about any family member can do, and doing it together creates healthier hearts and healthier family communication.
Idea #3 – Go roller skating or ice skating
Skating is a good aerobic activity for both children and adults: one that also improves balance and coordination.  It’s also good for families with teenagers who might be more interested in being with each other or friends their age;  while they “do their thing,” you and your spouse can be within sight and yet enjoy some one-on-one time.
Idea #4 – Build archery skills
Though not a heavy calorie burning activity, learning to shoot a bow and arrow builds hand-eye coordination, upper body strength, and is a lot of fun! Many local communities have archery courses available for free. Take lessons as a family to get up to speed quickly.
Idea #5 – Team up for disk golf or Ultimate Frisbee
Disc golf is a rapidly growing sport, played very similarly to traditional golf, only with Frisbee-like discs. Like golf, disc golf is a great all-ages sport. Unlike golf, disc golf is very affordable! Many good discs can be bought online for under $10, and many local disk golf courses charge as little as five dollars per game, or are even free.
If your family is highly competitive and in good shape, Ultimate is a popular alternative. It rules are similar to soccer's, and it's as strenuous as a soccer game, basically using a Frisbee disc instead of a ball.
Idea #6 – Laser tag or paint ball
Most communities these days have laser tag facilities, or nearby access to a paintball course. Both activities are adrenaline-pumping ways to involve the entire family (or two families), particularly those with teenaged kids. Of the two, laser tag is a more affordable option, but both are worth trying as a family.
Idea #7 – Use people power to run errands
Sometimes, a more fit lifestyle can be as simple as choosing fit alternatives to running daily errands.  Build exercise into your family’s lifestyle by leaving the car behind whenever the distance is otherwise reachable on foot or by cycling.  Bike or walk together to the library or to your kids’ sports practice session, or to pick up a carryout meal.

Resources for a fit family lifestyle

Here are handy resources designed to work together as a family to improve health and fitness.
  • Eat Smart. Play Hard.™ -- This USDA-sponsored site provides for parents and caregivers with information to help you eat better, be more physically active and be a role model for your kids.
  • Let's Eat for the Health of It  -- This digital brochure based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides tips for building a healthy plate, eating the right amount of calories, being physically active, and more.
  • Make Family Time Active Time  -- This site from the National Institutes of Health gives great tips for enjoying physical activity together as a family.
  • Create Healthy, Active Celebrations –  From the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, this PDF brochure provides ideas for making healthy eating and physical activity part of special events and celebrations, including low-cost recipes, party themes, and tips on event planning.
Why not use January's National Family Fit Lifestyle Month to kick-start your family's healthier new year? If you have suggestions or ideas for family fitness, please share them using the comments field below.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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