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Tip # 17: Plan to do activities together

March 2, 2011

I have taken up the piano, and although that would appear to have nothing to do with fitness, let me explain…

A Little Background:

Most of you know that I see obesity as primarily (although certainly not solely) a family problem.  I did get obese before I had a family, but aspects of getting healthy were made much harder by the demands of kids (although my motivation increased).

Over the years I have had the good fortune of getting to spend a ton of time with my kids in their activities.  It pretty much started when they were in their infancy with family pottery night.  There was a great program put on by the local community center for families to work with pottery, shaping, molding, cutting, glazing, firing, etc.  It was every Wednesday night and we ended up doing it for years.  We had so much fun together, family friends started coming and pretty soon there was a bunch of us doing it as families.  What I noticed was that we would talk about what our challenges were, what we were doing, what was good in each of our works and laugh about what wasn’t.  The key thing about this though was we were communicating as peers learning together.  It was during this time that a seed was planted for what I think is one of the most successful strategies for raising healthy families.

Do as many activities together as you can.

It is that simple.  After family pottery, we ended up doing family skating together.  I don’t love skating, and I did take a pretty nasty fall that hurt my wrist, but it was great to get back on the ice and discover that I could still skate, something I hadn’t done since my youth.  Still, I love to get out there and see the kids skate and race them, help them and most importantly, get to know their teachers!  By doing this, I can find out what they need to learn and help them learn it so they can advance to the next level in their skating.  The ability to understand their place in the system is probably the most important element in your involvement in their activities.  If you aren’t there, getting to know the teachers, the other students, the process and the skills, you can’t advocate effectively for your kids.  The ability to speak up for them, to understand what is holding them back and help them along is fundamental to them enjoying and sticking with their activities!  Get out there and get involved so you can help them stay involved.

This year we also did the cross country run program that the school puts on.  They need parent volunteers to keep the kids safe on the 2 km run, so I got up an hour early and ran with the kids.  I got to know some of the teachers better, got to encourage my kids in their running and help some of the others, and finally, I got a great workout an hour before I ever would have been out of bed.  Since then I have gone cross country skiing with the kids and learned to snowboard with them.  When they go to their swim lessons, I go for a swim and when I go for my masters swim class they go for a swim themselves.  The lifeguards and staff at the pool have gotten to know us and they look out for us as well.

If you don’t have the time or you are using events to get some of the free time you need to shop or get work done, or you have other kids to take care of at that time, then this may not work for you, but I see so many parents sitting down reading a book while their kids do whatever activity they do.  They complain that they have no time to workout and they just sit there while their kids are active  I know we all need our downtime, but see if you can schedule it some other time, because by taking our downtime here, we are missing a great opportunity.

So this is where the piano comes in…

Every Wednesday the kids and I do a shared activity (which is rarely physical, as opposed to our Tuesday, Thursday and Weekend physical activities).  It really doesn’t matter what it is, but we make sure we sign up for a program together.  This last few months has been music.  I am musically inept, but my eldest is a phenomenal singer and she wants to hone her voice.  I noticed that she wasn’t singing as much as she had in past and I thought voice lessons might be good for her.  She loved the idea.  My youngest has always wanted to learn guitar.  At first I sat in the lobby while they were taking their lessons, but then I thought, why am I wasting my time?

Being I spent years trying to learn how to play the drums and failed, along with failing at picking up the guitar, I figured the piano might be a good fit for me, so I signed up and now we have lessons at the same time.  I am enjoying learning an instrument.  It is on my bucket list.  I am putting very little pressure on myself and I think that is helping.  The best part about this though is that we can talk music together, as 3 peers learning.  We talk about how much time we are each practicing, not as a father lecturing his children on practicing, but as a fellow musician having a hard time finding the time to practice.  Some weeks I practice the most, other weeks, it is the kids.

Some techniques that will help with developing shared activities:

Don’t plan to workout at the most fit persons level:  For example, when I introduced my kids to running, we walk-ran a lap of the track.  I had run a half marathon, but the kids were just starting.  Had I pushed them, they would have hated it.  Remember that the payoff for this kind of work comes a little later and you need to put in some time when they are young getting them up to speed.

Make it fun:  Whatever it is you are doing, have fun with it and help the kids to have fun.  If it is running, can you make it a race where everyone wins?  Can you incorporate some other fun elements?  On the weekend, if we run, I give the kids a great reward, a hot chocolate or maybe a fast food lunch.  Can you go for a run before going out for a nice family breakfast?

Limit your time:  Kids don’t have the ability to sustain activities that are less enjoyable as well as an adult (this is debatable as I used to quit something I didn’t like in about 5 minutes).  When you are doing something like downhill skiing, don’t force the kids up the mountain at 7am and make them ski until 4pm.  It will feel like work to them.  Leave when they are done, or maybe even a little before.  It is great to feel like you didn’t get enough excitement or activity and you are dieing to get back out there.

Whenever possible register your kids for activities at the same time:  This creates the possibility for you do some activity while they are.  If you can’t do the same activity, ie: swim while they are in swim lessons, then can you go for a run?  I did that when the kids were at field hockey practice.  Can you use a gym facility in the building?  Another father I know does this while the kids are in gymnastics.

Be prepared and come early:  You will probably need to do a lot to get the kids ready for their activity.  If you are running behind, you won’t be able to get yourself ready too.  This makes it easy to jam out.

Start early and include the kids in your workouts when they are young:   You can take a jogging stroller out on your couch to 5k program.  Show them what a fit lifestyle looks like.  They will want to join in if they have seen you doing while they are growing.  There is a guy on the cross country ski mountain who has a baby sled that he drags behind him while he skis.  He has a small kids pair of skis strapped to the back of it.  Every once in awhile he gets his toddler out of the sled and straps on the skis and lets the little tike ski around.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is a fit family!

Make sure you have packed some treats:  I know with my kids, their enthusiasm wanes quickly when they are hungry.  It goes from everything being alright to hell on earth in about 5 minutes, so plan ahead and keep some snacks with you.  I pack a survival backpack from my adventure racing experiences with snack bars, granola, etc. and make sure I take to as many of the outdoor activities as I can.  Again, it is a case of being prepared.  Included in this is bringing your own reusable water bottle.  Activities that will make you fit will make you sweat.  Bring your own water and don’t add to the bottled water problem in the world.

Give it a shot and tell me how it goes.  If you have any tips or learn of any while pursing this goal, please post them in the comments.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 10:44 am

    You are so right about doing things WITH the kids instead of just sticking them into classes to get extra time to work! My daughter ice skates, and she loves when we go out on the weekend and she gets to be the TEACHER for once, instead of always beng the student. I skated a long time ago, and once I get over my fear of falling and breaking my wrist, it’s actually fun! I re-learned how to do front cross overs from my 7 year old – what a hoot!

  2. June 8, 2011 3:01 pm

    As my children were growing up, my husband and I made sure they exercised on a regular basis. Today, they are all grown up, but still live close enough to home, in Miami, FL. We decided a few years ago to try and see each other a few times a week at a local gym – as a way to stay healthy and have ‘family time.’ We recently decided to try out a boxing club nearby, Biscayne Boxing & Fitness Club. It has truly been a great experience for the entire family and it makes a fun way for us to workout and see each other on a weekly basis.

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