Remember the days of playing outside all day until it was dinner time? Hardly watching TV unless it was raining outside or you were sick? In this day and age, it’s very common for kids to spend a huge part of the day watching TV, playing on an tablet or computer, or playing video games on an Xbox or Wii.
I can’t stress enough how important exercise is to the health of a family. As busy parents who work outside the home, or even as busy parents who work in the home, finding the time to exercise can be a real challenge. Seriously, when you are chasing a toddler around all day, who has the time (or energy) to do cardio for an hour?
Not only is physical activity crucial to the health of the family members, it’s an important foundational structure element for kids. Our children model their lives after the role models they had growing up…that’s us. If their model is an inactive lifestyle, they will emulate that and adopt it for their own lives.
However, if kids have a model of an active lifestyle, they will also model that. Even if their choice of activity differs from that of their parents’. If we want them to exercise, we need to exercise. And preferably, we need to exercise together!
When families adopt an active lifestyle (as well as healthy eating habits), it creates a culture in the family of wellness. It helps to form the belief that healthy habits are a good thing – something to strive for – rather than a punishment or a negative consequence of eating too many treats.
The easiest way to model a healthy, active lifestyle for our kids is to participate in activities and have them join us. Doing these activities as a family not only helps to build healthy habits, it also makes memories together and is a bonding time.
Not sure where to start? Here are 5 very achievable and simple activities that you can do with your kids today!
Hiking/Take walks/Nature walks
If you live in an area close to mountains or hiking trails, hiking is a very easy way to get the kids active. In fact, nature is a child’s paradise because there is so much to see and explore: sights, sounds, smells, and textures that may not be found near or in the home.
If you don’t live near hiking trails, explore walking trails or nature walks near your home. A stroll through the woods, or a walk along a nearby river or on the beach are just as enriching as a hike through the mountains.
I highly recommend letting your child explore on your hike or walk. Children learn best through manipulating their environment. Picking up sticks, touching rocks, smelling flowers, watching a bird fly or dive for fish, sitting next to a creek and listening to the sounds of the water – these are all learning and growing experiences for children. And, more often than not, they are wonderfully calming and centering experiences for adults!
When your kids are super young (infant and young toddler), put them in a pack and carry them on your adventure. Start them as early as you can, and they’ll never know the experience of an inactive lifestyle! If your children are young (toddler to under 4 years old), start slow and keep the walk or hike short (say, under a mile). Slowly build up time and distance with regular practice.
My boys are now 10, 8 and 7. When they were really young, we used to pull them in an attached kid carrier (such as a Burley trailer). When they got slightly older, they rode on a tandem seat behind my husband’s bike. For the last couple of years we have all been riding our own bikes, and up until this summer, our family rides were 4 miles long or shorter in length.
This summer has seen a large change in our kids’ stamina and endurance. Just recently we went on a 6.5 mile hike followed by a 13.5 mile bike ride the next day. Oh happy day! We have been waiting for the day (for years now) when activity with the kids would also become cardio activity for us.
As someone who didn’t learn to swim until I was 12 years old, I am a huge proponent of learning to swim early. Swimming is not only an important life-saving skill, it’s also wonderful low-impact exercise and tons of fun!
I started my kids in swim lessons around 2 years old. Before then, we would play in the bathtub and blow bubbles in the water and get used to having water in our faces. Kids pick things up so easy at young ages, so doing this things as naturally as possible introduces them to it without seeming like “work”!
Now we go to the pool and play and do races and flips and just have a blast together as a family being active.
Sports – basketball, baseball, climbing, volleyball, soccer
Sports are a wonderful way of being active while also working on things like hand-eye coordination and body awareness. Plus they are just fun! Kick a soccer ball around in the backyard or go to a local park and play catch or basketball.
The beauty of so many sports is that they are easy to play in a relaxed way, with only a couple of players (playing catch vs. a full game of baseball). You really are limited only by your imagination here!
Do a 5K together
If you are a runner, take your kids with you as you do a local community 5K. So many 5Ks have parents with strollers participating, and it’s a great way to introduce the kids to the experience at a very young age.
Also, many communities are incorporating more and more “fun” runs – themed 5Ks to make it more about the experience rather than the run. Bubble runs, tough mudders, super hero runs, and so much more. These are generally very family-friendly, so check your community to see what is offered!
Stay Hydrated and Fueled
When going on activities, make sure to have a system for staying hydrated. Our family loves to wear hydration backpacks so that each member is carrying his or her own water, and it’s easily accessible, even during activity. But other options include a water bottle to carry around or attach to a bike.
Also, if your activity lasts longer than about an hour, be sure to take along a small snack for fuel (and to prevent those hunger-induced tantrums). Carbs and protein are good sources for fuel. Cheese sticks, trail mix, and raisins are good, portable, kid-friendly snacks to bring on activities.
Doing activities together as a family gets everyone healthier and teaches healthy habits to kids that will last a lifetime. Another huge benefit is that being active together creates memories that all family memories will cherish for many, many years.
Where are you in your journey of an active lifestyle? Have you ever tried any of these activities as a family? Comment below!
Heather Behrends is a mom of 3 boys and a blogger at Made In A Pinch – a site dedicated to making family life easier, healthier, and happier. Check out www.madeinapinch.com for simple, healthy recipes, tips, and so much more. You can also connect with Made In A Pinch on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.