I recently read this troubling fact:
“More than 80 percent of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Similarly, more than 80 percent of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.”
We all know that it is important to be physically active, that regular exercise improves overall health and helps to reduce risks for common health problems, and yet most of us are not fit; many of us, together with our families, are far too sedentary.
Fitness and nutrition are hard enough to master as an individual, add into the mix picky kids, extracurricular activities and late nights pulling overtime, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster! How are busy families supposed to get fit and stay healthy?
The best way to achieve fitness goals for the whole family is to make them together, commit to them together, and do them together, while supporting one another. And the benefits are important:
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to wake me up before school, so she and I could work out together. Once a week, with my mom, my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and brother, I would take long walks after church. It was such a fun time together, I remember it fondly. This is what inspired me to get active with my kids.
It may seem too much like herding cats to get the whole family together to exercise, but I have been doing it with my kids since they were babies.
I first committed to one time of day that worked best for all of us: after dinner. Then I decided to make it fun. Together we do a mixture of activities, and the kids get a say in what we do. My son loves to do jumping jacks, play catch, and my daughter loves practicing yoga and stretching. I love martial arts, walking, hiking, or running. I mix these up and add inappropriate weight lifting and bodyweight exercises too. Doing it together really inspires me to keep up, especially when I see the children smiling and having a great time.
Starting a family fitness plan may seem daunting, but if you don’t make it a priority, it will never happen. Based on my experiences, here are some steps anyone can use to create a family fitness program that will last:
If this is going to be a family affair, everyone should be involved and invested from the beginning. Now is a very good time to hire a certified fitness trainer to get you started. This trained professional can assess your family’s current fitness and help guide the planning of workouts. Working with a certified fitness professional is great for accountability, and you’ll learn safe and effective exercises for everyone in your family.
Whether or not you are working with a trainer, discuss your current physical activity levels with your family. Ask each member to honestly evaluate where they stand. There are four levels of physical activity:
Once you have discussed your current activity levels, talk about where you should be and how you can get there. Consider any injuries or health limitations and then brainstorm activities you can all do together.
Talk about healthy eating habits too, and positive changes you could all make. Above all, support and respect each other and making this an exciting adventure for the entire family, even the smallest step towards a healthy lifestyle can make a significant impact on each of you.
Now is the time to really commit to finding a time that will work for everyone, every day if you can, although it is important to be realistic. Aim to be active together for at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Make a list of fun ways to exercise together, and stick to the routine.
For days when it just isn’t possible to be active together, use fitness trackers to help keep each other accountable. You can even make a fun game out of it. Have a contest for the most steps, or add them up together and set a monthly goal. Reward the whole family if your goal was met.
Just like brushing your teeth, a new healthy commitment will get easier to do, if you make it a regular part of your day, a habit. Here are a few activities you and your family can try that my family has found are fun to do regularly. Alternate the exercises, and add a few of your own:
Fitness is important, but without proper nutrition, your efforts are not as effective as they could be. Extend family fitness time into family mealtime.
Start by writing a menu each week. Make sure each meal follows the 1-2-3 Nutritional Rule-of-Thumb. This is approximately one part fat, two parts protein, and three parts carbohydrates for each meal.
This nutrition plan works great for beginners and families because it makes planning easier. It is also a simple and safe way to burn fat for those who are weight training and exercising. Check with your child’s school and make sure they are getting a well-balanced diet that fits this. If not, pack their lunch or request they be offered more nutritional meals according to this guideline.
You can devote each evening to prepping lunch together, too. My children love packing their dad’s and my lunches. It is a great time to teach one another about the importance of certain food groups, and which to avoid.
Studies have shown that families who eat meals together promote healthy conversations, and are closer to their normal weight range. These families also have better overall dietary eating habits than those families who eat few meals together.
Setting specific and achievable goals is so important to make positive changes. Ask your family what goals they may have and then set some together.
For example, if the goal was to walk around the block once this week, set a goal to walk it twice next week. You can also set healthy eating goals. For example, if you currently have a lot of sweets or soda in the pantry, the goal could be to have all sweets out of the house by the end of the month and not to replenish them.
It also helps to mark the goals on the calendar and to keep a progress chart, (kids love stickers). Then, help your family to be accountable for these goals together. Accountability is an effective way to ensure that the family stays on track and rewards make it more fun.
Fitness and healthy eating habits can and should be made a priority in every family. By taking the time for family activities, your family will start to form healthy habits that are hard to break.
Setting goals, staying accountable, adding rewards, eating more meals together, and above all tackling fitness together, will help your family take steps toward better health. Get started now, because what you teach your children today is what they will take with them into adulthood.
Get moving together and have fun with it!
Are you ready to make a difference? Help families and individuals meet their fitness goals as a Fitness Coach. You'll learn the essentials of personal training plus another specialization to take your training up to the top tier.
1. Hammons, Amber J., and Barbara H. Fiese. "Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?" Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2011. Web. 09 Jan. 2017
2. Hatfield, Frederick C. "Unit 19 Determining An Appropriate Nutrient Ratio." Fitness: The Complete Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports Science Association, 2001. 498-507. Print.
3. PA Guidelines, Chapter 1. ODPHP, 2008. Web. 2017.
4. "Physical Activity." Physical Activity | Healthy People 2020. ODPHP, 2017. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.