17 years ago, I got engaged to my college sweetheart on the plane ride home from the our conference championship track meet. Not only would I be marrying someone I loved, but someone who understood the importance of physical fitness, and who would help me instill that in each of our future children.
Fast forward to present day, and together we have eight children who are involved in competitive soccer, basketball, tumbling, and yes, even cross country and track. More than that, they each enjoy living a healthy and fit lifestyle.
And while it isn’t always easy, here are eight ways I have found to make fitness fun for the whole family.
1. Lead by example
Oftentimes parents — yes, even those with athletic backgrounds — let their fitness habits go by the wayside. Things like work, family life and other life stressors often get in the way, and remaining physically fit sometimes gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do pile.
The truth of the matter is, however, if you remain physically fit, your children will have a greater chance of following suit. In fact, research has found children with parents who do almost no physical activity have a 50 percent greater risk of being unfit than children with more physically active parents.
So, get out there and show your kids who’s fit.
2. Begin when they’re young
If kids grow up doing physical activities, then it will be a way of life for them that they won’t soon forget.
From the time our kids were little (and we still have some little ones), we’ve taken them on hikes and small family runs together. We enroll them in tiny tumbling or dance classes and recreation soccer teams.
Doing these things has given them good early memories tied to physical fitness, so as they grow, they will have positive connections to these types of activities.
3. Let them choose
As much as I would love to have all my kids following in my and my husband’s footsteps by becoming a collegiate runner, what I really want is for them to find their own niche’.
I am no soccer player, but it gives me so much joy to watch my 13 and 10-year old sons compete against the best kids in the state, and killing it! While I can pull off a good backflip on a trampoline, I get all sorts of excited when I see my daughters and 11-year old son performing and competing in trampoline and tumbling events.
And when they choose to run whether it’s in a race or casually, I am happy because it’s what they chose to do.
4. Let them play
There’s so much put on the formalities of fitness, that we too often forget the role of play. Running around in the backyard playing tag is as natural as it gets. Jumping on the trampoline or dancing to music played in the front room not only promotes physical fitness but creativity in movement.
Even simply playing in the sandbox while sitting in a deep squat is extremely soothing and almost Yoga-like. Just watch your kids play, and you’ll know just what I mean.
5. Spend time individually
Making fitness a family experience is wonderful, but the truth of the matter is, not everyone is at the same pace. Some kids struggle to keep up, while others feel like they are being held back.
As a runner, I will often go for a few miles by myself, then finish off the last three or four miles taking turns with my older kids. My 13-year-old son loves to run fast on the nearby mountain trails, whereas my 12-year old daughter does more of a run-hike thing. My 11-year-old son loves going as fast as he can for a mile, while my 10-year-old son is slow and steady the whole way.
Taking the time to spend individual time with each child lets them enjoy running at their own pace, and lessens the competition between siblings.
6. Make it a good experience
Too much of fitness has negative ties. For instance, a P.E. teacher who punishes the class with push-ups or running laps. This is a surefire way to get a child to hate working out.
As a parent, I feel like it is my job to make it a positive experience so being physically fit as a teen and adult will be a choice rather than an, “I have to do this,” or “I hate exercise” thing.
7. Tell your children why it’s important to be fit
It’s not enough to participate in physical activities. You need to be upfront with your children why they doing it.
I often tell my kids that when I encourage them to exercise, it is no different than telling them not to smoke, or that they need to look both ways before they cross the street. Being healthy is something that will prevent life threatening situations as they get older.
8. Keep it balanced
I am guilty of being a little top heavy on the physical fitness side of things, and am trying to be better about this.
Life is full of so many things to experience like music, art, reading, writing and creating. These things don’t replace physical activity, but it is important to allow your children to have a balanced and fulfilling life. Doing so will promote happiness and a desire to continue to do the many things this life has to offer.
And there’s nothing quite like running through a field of wildflowers while appreciating the sounds of a meadowlark, and snapping a video or picture to make the moment last longer. Then when you get home, you write about the experience in your journal or an article for readers to enjoy.
This is what a life of physical fitness has done for me, and it’s what I hope it does for each one of my children.