It is a warm summer day in one of our many city parks, and a few families are gathered on the lawn doing a combination of stretching exercises, an obstacle course, and sprints. They are led by an instructor who encouragingly motivates each member of the group to do his best. This scene is becoming commonplace throughout the city, as more parents are making fitness a priority for their families and incorporating it into their family time.
This trend could very well be a response to the increase in childhood obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
Children who are obese are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure — not to mention psycho-social issues related to obesity including low self-esteem and feeling discriminated against. And, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore at higher risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.
Parents and caregivers play a critical role in shaping how their kids think about living healthy. Whether it’s setting fitness goals, going regularly to the gym, or making smart food choices, it is important for children to see adults modeling healthy behaviors and routines. With demanding work schedules and extracurricular activities, it can be a challenge to find the time for exercise and healthy meal planning.
Renee Eanes-Belgrave, a mom of six, says that although she and her husband Clyde struggle with finding time to exercise, they are trying to make it a part of their family routine, because it’s something healthy that their kids enjoy.
“Family time is so important to us,” says Eanes-Belgrave. “With such a range of ages in our family, exercise is a great activity that brings us all together. And, a little healthy competition amongst the kids motivates them to do what they can.”
One of the most important ways to teach kids about living healthy is to show them that it is fun! Norman Turkowitz, a dad of two who has run the New York marathon more than 20 times, says he can still recall the special times he spent with his dad playing sports and exercising. Today, he tries to create similar experiences and memories for his kids.
“It’s all about setting realistic goals and having fun while trying to reach them.”
Dr. Cindy Baskin, internist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, agrees that kids are impressionable and need to be exposed to positive habits in order to adopt them.
“Children are far more likely to develop healthy habits if they see their parents making smart diet choices and living an active lifestyle,” says Baskin. “That message is so much stronger than a doctor who tells a child to ‘eat your fruits and vegetables and do daily exercise.’”
Want to kick-start a healthy routine for your family? Here are 10 tips to get you started:
1. Make workouts part of your family ritual and schedule the time on your family calendar, so everyone knows what to expect and when.
2. Allow kids to decide what your workout will be (jogging, bike riding, calisthenics, etc.).
3. Reward family members for their participation (movie, a trip to the toy or clothing store, screen time).
4. Use sprints and obstacle courses to create friendly competition. This makes workouts more exciting.
5. Rotate who in the family will lead a group workout.
6. Encourage kids to food shop with you. If they are part of the process of choosing what to stock the fridge with, they will more likely want to eat their selections.
7. For that picky eater in your household, keep introducing healthy food over and over. Remember it takes 10-plus times for a child to take to a food.
8. Leave your fruit bowl in a place where kids can easily grab an apple or a banana.
9. Stock your fridge with veggies and cover all the colors of the rainbow: red peppers, zucchini, broccoli, purple cabbage. Have kids help you prepare meals.
10. Plan active vacations that involve walking, hiking, or other sports-related activities. If a relaxing vacation is planned, try to do one active thing each day.
Sara Dimmick is a new mother and co-founder of Physical Equilibrium, which provides fitness and wellness experiences for New York City families. Her motto is “create balance and have fun!” Ask her your fitness-related questions at [email protected]