There's nothing like watching marathon runners to make most of us feel...like complete and total slackers.
Now, sometimes as we watch the not-so-elite runners struggle toward the end of the race we feel relieved that we will likely never in our lives have to run 26 miles. But to be in good enough physical shape to even give it a shot, well, that's pretty great.
This year, instead of just thinking about ourselves--either getting out our running shoes or settling more comfortably into our recliner--we should think about our kids. Because here's the thing: what our kids do now has everything to do with whether marathons are possible for them later. In fact, what they do now has everything to do with their future health.
Kids should be getting an hour of physical activity every day--but lots and lots of them don't. This is a big part of why a third of kids are overweight or obese. But even if your inactive child isn't overweight, he or she is missing out. Exercise is a habit. if you learn it early, it becomes part of life and doesn't feel like work. If you start it later, it's more likely to feel like work--and it's less likely to become part of daily life. Which is sad, because exercise isn't just about weight. Exercise staves off all sorts of diseases. Exercise keeps us healthy--and helps us live long lives.
Here are a few really simple ways to get your kids moving--and start out those healthy habits.
Babies. Yes, babies. They need to be active too, and too many of them aren't. By the time they are 6 months, they should be spending time on a firm, safe surface, learning to move and crawl and stand. Those chairs for babies are comfortable and convenient, but they don't help babies get strong and agile. If your baby cries during tummy time, don't give up! Put her on your chest, where she will be happier, and then ease her into being on the floor next to you as a next step.
Also, go for walks with your baby. Get a jogging stroller and get out those running shoes, or use a baby carrier and let him see the world and experience the gentle bounce of a brisk walk. Remember that our actions speak louder than our words, and start setting an example early.
Toddlers: Toddlers can be a danger to themselves and others (including the family pets) so it's tempting to keep them contained. While I'm all for keeping them safe (and away from stoves, stairs and bathtubs), too much containment isn't good. So find or create some safe places where they can run around, practice getting up and down and climbing. Toddler gym classes or swim classes are a good way to get them moving, but your backyard or local park is great too.
Keep up with the walks--and let them walk along with you for part of it.
Preschoolers: These guys should definitely be active an hour a day--and they need it. Like puppies, they just plain old feel, act and sleep better if they've had exercise. This is also a time when they are learning social skills, so the playground is a great idea; negotiating who goes down the slide next adds a whole new dimension to exercise. If you have a yard, get them out into it: yard sales can be a great way to buy inexpensive tricycles and play equipment.
At this age, they really love playing with parents and caregivers. So get out a soccer ball and kick it around. Play hula-hoops. Play tag and hide-and-seek. They will love it. Keep up with those walks; play I Spy as you go.
School age: This is where kids might start to give you resistance--and where they really start to get interested in video games and other sedentary activities (try to keep the screen time to less than two hours a day). Organized sports can help by making exercise scheduled and adding in peers. But active play, and making exercise part of normal activities, is key to building healthy habits. So walk to school, if possible--and if possible, stay at the playground for a while after school. If you've got a yard, kick the kids outside for a while every day. If you use an afterschool program, look for one that gets the kids active.
Keep taking walks. They can become not just exercise, but time to talk. As kids get older, those opportunities get fewer--and more valuable. Older kids can do more, too--like family bikerides, hikes, climbs or races (try a 5k!).
Teens. Teens who are involved in sports aren't just healthier--they have better grades, and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. So by middle school, make it a requirement that your teen does something. Intramural sports are fine. So is a dance class, or karate lessons, or whatever alternative works for your teen. If they don't want to join something, send them out for a brisk walk or run--maybe a combination of both, with running for a couple of minutes then resting then running again. Do it with them.
Keep taking walks. Your teen may or may not want to join you (they are more likely to do so if they have grown up with it as a family activity) but now, more than ever, setting an example is crucial. Look for things they might like to do together, and give them a try even if they are out of your comfort zone (I'm sure you've always wanted to try rock climbing or surfing). Spending time with you helps keep them out of trouble too.
These are just a few ideas--you know your family and your child and your life best. The point is to get your kids moving, and keep them healthy not just now but for the rest of their lives. Like the Nike slogan says: Just do it.