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Making Physical Activity a Family Affair

Jan 09, 2012

Written by Meghan Oefinger, B.S., ACSM HFS

Gone are the days when children and their parents were commonly seen outside playing badminton or capture the flag. These days, one has to look inside the house to catch a glimpse of the entire family, and often they are seen parked in front of the television or on the computer. What happened to the days of bike rides and nature walks? More important, what is the impact on families’ health when they replace physical activity with physical inactivity?

Inactivity at any age results in the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to premature death. For aging adults, inactivity can lead to loss of muscle mass, coordination and balance over and above the normal age-linked declines. These losses will limit their ability to do daily tasks and can compromise independence. Children who are inactive are robbed of an opportunity to develop important motor skills, are more likely to be obese, and are developing sedentary habits that can last a lifetime. ACSM recommends that children spend less than two hours per day doing sedentary non-academic activities, such as watching television and playing video or computer games.

Physical activity is an important component of health, regardless of age, gender or weight, so everyone in the family can benefit. Social support from family has been shown to positively relate to the amount of physical activity done by both men and women. Therefore, the influence of family to encourage physical activity is powerful. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children get 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, including moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercises. These Guidelines encourage adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. So how does one ensure that their family is meeting the recommended guidelines?

There are many ways to make physical activity a fun family affair. If money is tight and you are searching for new ways to spend time together and be entertained, introducing a family fun hour of activity is just what the doctor—and the wallet—ordered.

Have Fun
Do activities that you and your family enjoy. Someone who is not having fun will be much less likely to join in next time. For example:

  • If you and your family like the Harry Potter series, learn how to play the non-flying version of Quiddich!
  • Go for nature walks or a scavenger hunt for local plants in your area.
  • Push aside the couches and put in a Zumba video.
  • Pick your family’s favorite or dream vacation destination. Track how many miles it would take you to get there and chart the number of miles you walk each day.

Include Variety
Let each family member contribute their ideas of activities that the family would enjoy. For example:

  • Visit different locations to exercise each week.
  • Assign each day of the week with a particular sport.
  • Try out a seasonal favorite, like swimming or canoeing in the summer, or skiing and snow shoeing in the winter.

Create a Schedule
Forming a routine for your family is vital to maintaining an active lifestyle.

  • Pick the times that work for your family. This sounds obvious, but often we think that one time of day is better than another. The best time of day is the time you can commit to being active. Look for those blocks of time when the family is together, and think of ways to make that active time.
  • Some activity is better than no activity, so even if you have just ten minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening, use it for exercise.
  • Write your schedule someplace where everyone in the family will see it.

Think Outside the Box
A gym membership is not necessary to make physical activity a part of your family’s life. There are plenty of free and convenient ways to be active, including:

  • Throw on that pair of sneakers and go for a family walk. Walking is a great time to catch up on the day’s events and check in with your spouse and/or children.
  • If you have cable television, turn on the fitness channel and find a program that your family really likes and will get you off the couch.
  • Put on some music and stick with one exercise, such as jumping rope, for the duration of one song. Switch to another activity, such as jumping jacks, for the next song.

Remember that family can positively influence behavior and that being active is important for everyone regardless of age, gender and weight. So make being physically active a family affair and enjoy the rewards of better health!

View the full summer 2011 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page supported by Liberty Mutual online.

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