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Fitness the Family Way

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Whether working inside or outside the home, many parents find it extremely challenging to find time for fitness. Every day they are trying to "do it all"-put time in at work, prepare nutritious meals, spend quality time as a family and transport children here, there and everywhere.

Whether working inside or outside the home, many parents find it extremely challenging to find time for fitness. Every day they are trying to "do it all" put time in at work, prepare nutritious meals, spend quality time as a family and transport children here, there and everywhere.

But by searching for interesting, easy ways to incorporate small "chunks" of movement into the day, a regular fitness routine is actually quite doable.

The American College of Sports Medicine fully supports the idea of several short bouts of exercise each day, and the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (December 2001) reports that three 10-minute fitness sessions can provide benefits comparable to one continual 30-minute session. This means if time is short (as for most families), taking a few minutes to exercise here and there throughout the day will prove beneficial to your health.

In the Morning

Mornings can be a whirlwind of activity while everyone tries to prepare for the day ahead. Try fitting some of these suggestions into your routine.

  1. A five-minute family stretch in the morning is a good way to awaken the body. It is also good for keeping joints and muscles limber. Try getting some tips from stretch-based videos such as YogaKids, TaiChi for Young People or EI EI Yoga.
  2. Or do a 10-minute section of a children's workout video together (such as Fit 4 Kids or Elmocize) before the morning rush begins.
  3. If your household is too hectic for an organized morning fitness session, try playing some music and encouraging everyone to dance while making breakfast, packing knapsacks or getting dressed. This way everyone is "doing their own thing" but exercising at the same time (yes, dancing is exercise!).
  4. Take five minutes to do some strength-based movements such as abdominal crunches, push-ups or squats. If your family likes competition, keep track of how many each member does over the course of the week. The weekly winner could get a "Muscles of the Week" sticker, crown or trophy.

Parents in the Workplace

There are many ways to introduce bits of movement into your work day. Of course, many of the following suggestions depend on the rules of your work environment. But take a look and see if you can fine-tune any of the following so that you can incorporate some activity into your day.

  1. Walk whenever you can. Walk to work if possible or, if you drive, park at the far end of the parking lot. Another option is to park a few blocks away from work and walk the rest of the way. While at work, use the bathroom farthest away from your work area and take the stairs rather than the elevator.
  2. Use daily breaks and lunchtime for activity. If you receive regular breaks at work, use one to take a 10-minute walk. If you have an hour for lunch, use half of it to eat and the other half to take a walk. If you have a half-hour lunch, use 10 minutes of it to take a brisk walk. If you don't have anywhere to walk but have stairs in your building, walk the stairs during lunch or breaks.
  3. Take stretch breaks. Try reaching up to the ceiling, tilting your head from side to side, reaching your arms behind you or sitting and reaching for your toes. These movements only take about a minute of your time. If you have an alarm on your watch or computer, try setting it for a stretch break every hour or two.

In the Evening

This is a good time of day for families to bond. What better way to do that than spending time together reaping the benefits of physical movement? This is also a good time to engage in relaxation exercises because it prepares children for bed and allows mom and dad to unwind from a busy day at work.

  1. While dinner is cooking, play active games outside. Toss a ball or play tag. With smaller children, play ring-around-the-rosie or hide-and-seek. If, while dinner is cooking, you are used to doing household tidying, play music and encourage everyone to dance while picking up.
  2. After dinner is a good time to take a family walk. Small children can relax in a stroller and older kids can ride their bikes. Take this opportunity to actively enjoy your neighbourhood and the changing seasons. It's a great way to release your mind from stress and anxiety.
  3. Before bed, take some time to stretch together. Stretching will help muscles relax and let go of any tension that may have accumulated over the day. Using a video geared for kids will keep the young ones interested, but also give mom and dad the benefit of stretching.

Weekend Warriors

Use the weekends to gather the family together for some kind of activity that requires movement. Family bike rides, playground play, swimming at the community pool, nature walks and just plain old tag are great ways to get everyone moving. Get the kids involved and let them choose which is going to be the "activity of the week." Try gathering everyone's ideas and putting them into a hat to be drawn out once a week. This way each weekend brings an exercise surprise!

Each day brings new challenges for families as parents and children go about their daily routines. Some days flow easily and with little difficulty while others are a tornado of activity. Whatever the day, a bit of family bonding through fitness will benefit both children and parents physically, mentally and emotionally. So, take some time each day to get up and move! With regular activity you and your family will live long and prosper.

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