Before the inviting weather and longer daylight hours slips away, now is the time – if you haven’t already done so – to embrace the concept of getting fit as a family. Not only can family fitness be fun, but getting in shape actually has become a crucial health issue, particularly for children.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. And these staggering statistics are potentially accompanied by very serious health threats, in that obese youngsters are more likely to become overweight or obese adults who are at greater risk for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. By being fit themselves, parents can set their kids on a healthful course for life.
Health education experts recommend the following steps to get started on a family-centered, shape-up program:
- Meet and plan—As a starting point, sit down as a family and make sure that everyone agrees to embarking on a family-fitness plan. Then, based on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition’s recommendation that children should engage in 60 minutes of physical activity daily, and adults – at minimum – should engage in 30 minutes, create an activity calendar that specifies what time each day will be devoted to fitness. It’s important that – as a family – you make a commitment to stick with this schedule.
- Keep it simple—The less complicated your shape-up activities are, the more likely it is your family will stay on track. For example, rather than piling in the car and heading to a scenic hiking destination, simply walk or bike around your neighborhood. Or, instead of investing in pricey gym memberships that often go unused, load up on low-tech fitness gear such as jump ropes, basketball and soccer balls, as well as the ever-popular Frisbee®.
- Turn off, tune out—According to Let’s Move!, which is First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to address childhood obesity, those ages 8 through 18 devote an average of 7.5 hours a day to TV, computers, video games, cell phones, and DVDs. Spending time on such activities runs counter to the goal of getting fit. Consequently, as part of a summer-shape-up program, it’s suggested that rules be set limiting the amount of time youngsters can spend watching TV, playing video games, or focusing on myriad other electronic pastimes. In fact, consideration should be given to extending such rules beyond summer.
- Ditch the car—Whenever possible, opt for walking rather than driving. For example, a five-minute drive to the store can be replaced by an enjoyable walk or bike ride to the store.
- Snooze to lose—While it seems counterintuitive, sleeping can ward off unwanted weight. As reported by Let’s Move!, a recent study found that with each extra hour of sleep, the risk of a child being overweight or obese dropped by nine percent. Sleep guidelines from Let’s Move! include: children under 5 should sleep for 11 hours or more per day; youngsters ages 5 to 10 should get 10 or more hours of sleep daily; and those over age 10 require at least nine hours per day.
The healthful habits that you establish during summer shouldn’t be abandoned once winter arrives. While some modifications may have to be made due to weather, staying fit should be a year-round goal.