By Camille E. Campanile
Correspondent | May 11,2014
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
Mother and daughter paddling on Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park.
Caregivers of infants, toddlers and children of all ages often find it difficult to allocate time and energy to pursue personal fitness. Caregiving during the years of early childhood development often coincides with weight gain and deconditioning for mom. (Today is Mother’s Day so “mom” signifies caregiver.) Wakeful nights with sleepless babies, constant attention to toddlers, frantic adherence to family and work schedules, household chores tucked into each corner of a day, topped by inevitable trips to the doctor’s office, leave precious little time in which to exercise.
Moreover, with the addictive draw of screen time, today’s children are less likely to get the amount of physical activity requisite for healthy development. “Because of childhood obesity, pediatricians now warn that today’s children may be the first generation of Americans since World War II to die at an earlier age than their parents… inactivity is seen as a major risk factor,” author Richard Louv said in his 2008 book, “Last Child in the Woods.”
However, exercise as a credible component of each day is possible. Understanding the importance of activity for young children and the imperative nature of exercise for mom, it becomes a matter of matching the challenge with creative solutions.
The battle against childhood obesity can begin when moms model fitness and establish the habit of healthy lifestyle for every member of the family. Both caregivers and children enjoy the mental, physical and emotional balance that exercise promotes.
How can families afford the time and expense of pursuing family fitness? One avenue to family fitness waits outside your Vermont door. Outdoor free play is recognized by many expects to be a critical foundation for healthy physical, mental and socio-emotional development for children.
“Play in all its rich variety is one of the highest achievements of the human species, alongside language, culture and technology. Indeed, without play, none of these other achievements would be possible. The value of play is increasingly recognized, by researchers and within the policy arena, for adults as well as children, as the evidence mounts of its relationship with intellectual achievement and emotional well-being.” (Dr. David Whitebread, University of Cambridge, 2012).
Moms can play on playgrounds and join in outdoor games and activities with their children. Personally, as an adult, I find the monkey bars to be quite a challenge! Not to mention 30 minutes of vigorous tag games can provide a quality quickness and agility conditioning session for everyone in the family.
According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Guidelines, children ages 3-6 should have at least 60 minutes structured play and 60 minutes of each day.
Regular, rhythmic activity such as walking or running can be physically beneficial and mentally or emotionally restorative. Kids can join mom in some of her exercise endeavors, with thoughtful accommodations to ensure their safety. If Mom does yoga, invite the kids for a few rounds of Simon Says Sun Salutations. If Mom takes a daily run, why not share a mile (or more) with the kids, especially with the easily accessible quality jogging strollers for little ones and optional conveyances for those older such as bikes or scooters. Be creative and responsive to each child’s individual needs and wants when planning a shared fitness adventure.
On a personal level, in my family, the pursuit of fitness is non-negotiable. All four of my children know it. Even our fifteen-month-old baby brings me his shoes after dinner in anticipation of our evening family walk, which we fondly refer to as the “After Dinner Cake Walk.”
Family fitness is at the heart of my husband’s and my parenting because as both athletes and coaches, we appreciate how games and sports offer children an opportunity to experience life challenges in a safe environment. We know that competition handled appropriately provides practice in winning and losing, team work and individual responsibility, self-discipline and goal-setting.
Take for example, a workout I did with my children recently. Baby settled into the jogger, and my 5, 7 and 9 year-olds laced up their running sneakers. There is a safe ½ mile loop in our neighborhood so that my kids can alternatively ride their bikes and run as chosen.
Together we made a goal to exercise for one hour. While this duration of exercise may not be appropriate for every family, it is a length of time that I know my kids and I are happy with. Before a joint exercise venture, help children set goals that are realistic yet offer a meaningful challenge. Family fitness provides countless teachable moments in terms of goal setting, perseverance and self-discipline. Practicing these important life-skills is essential for children’s cognitive development.
On our jog/bike, my children and I settled into a pace that everyone could sustain comfortably. We ran the first mile telling knock-knock jokes the whole way, keeping it fun and not a chore. Family fitness fosters togetherness through shared moments of striving (and laughing), moments of attention to each other and the world around us. It makes a significant impact on children to see their parents pursuing fitness; not just telling them to go outside.
After running the first mile, my 7- and 9-year-olds were so jazzed about the bikes we recently liberated from winter storage that they decided to switch to their wheels. My 5-year-old, who appears to have inherited my passion for running, instead chose to continue to jog with me. I honored their individual decisions, but reminded them that each child was accountable to finish the predetermined route. Since the ultimate goal is a lifetime of fitness, encourage children to take ownership of their workouts, and support them in following through.
Family fitness provides a range of physical benefits and ample opportunities to foster teamwork and individual accountability, which thereby promotes healthy emotional and cognitive development. Give your kids reasons to gain self-confidence.
When my children and I finished, my little ones clearly felt an empowering sense of accomplishment as we shared water, granola bars and high-fives. Don’t forget to celebrate the achievement of goals, as well as to help kids refuel with water and a nutritional snack post-workout. This is the foundation for healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
With so many positive outcomes from family fitness, why not celebrate this mother’s day by lacing up your sneakers and going out to exercise with your kids!