Fitness Does a Family Good

By Jennifer Wider, MD

Pick up any newspaper, magazine or online publication and news about obesity is everywhere. While some parents feel helpless in the fight to keep their family physically fit and healthy, other parents are taking action. Studies show that exercising as a family not only promotes good health but also helps strengthen the emotional bonds between family members.

Our society has changed dramatically over the last few decades. With the advancement of technology, Americans have become less active and more sedentary. It’s no wonder some families are struggling with their waistlines.

According to results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, which monitors six categories of health-risk behaviors among adolescents and young adults, the message is clear: the nutrition and exercise needs of young people in the US are not being met. “During the 7 days before the survey, 77.7% of high school students had not eaten fruits and vegetables five or more times per day, 29.2% had drunk soda or pop at least one time per day, and 81.6% were not physically active for at least 60 minutes per day on all 7 days.”

In an interview printed in Faith and Fitness Magazine, Joann Donnelly, Director of Total Health for the YMCA of Greater Houston said, “Research shows that children who exercise do better in school, control themselves better, and have fewer behavior issues. If parents and teachers could recognize the difference it would make in their kids, they’d have kids exercising constantly!”

Regular exercise not only improves behavioral patterns but reduces stress, lowers the risk for many diseases, improves mood and sleep patterns, strengthens bones and muscles, increases energy and has a positive effect on self-esteem and body image.

So how do you get kids moving? Setting fitness goals as a family is a great place to start.    According to Robbie Spector, MPT, who runs a physical therapy practice in Norwalk, CT, “Consider the benefits of grabbing a frisbee and heading to the park: less driving, and a great way to influence our children’s positive attitudes about exercise, fitness and the love of family.”

Placing exercise on the busy to-do list of today’s modern family and committing to it can be a challenge. “Whether from a busy work schedule or the constant demands of raising a family and running a home, we cannot always stick to whichever exercise goals we set for ourselves,” said Spector. To remedy this, make small changes that family members can manage successfully.

“Fall is a good time to reassess your children’s eating and exercise habits and make simple, step-wise changes. Make a single change at a time,” said Jennifer Gruen, MD, a pediatrician in Westport, CT.
And don’t be afraid to get creative. “If your child doesn’t want to do a team sport (or you would rather not spend a lot of money on classes or time driving there) challenge her to run around the house a few times, and see how many more rounds she can do each day,” said Gruen. “How many continuous jumps can he do with a jump-rope?  How many hoops can she shoot without missing?”
Here a few more ideas to get the family moving and heart rates up:

— Take a family walk after dinner
— Divide into teams and have an athletic competition (even speed walking, kickball or Simon Says will work)
— Have a dance party (freeze dance is a favorite among young children)
— Use an exercise video in bad weather (many are available for free on YouTube)
— Wash the car
— Try a yoga class together: studies have proven the benefits yoga can have on physical and mental fitness

Whatever your family chooses, setting practical fitness goals and sticking to them is the key to optimal health and wellness.

Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a medical advisor and contributing writer for the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), a national non-profit organization based in Washington D.C.

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October 6, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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