Five helpful ways to help your children develop a great fitness habit.
It’s often been said, “Don’t worry that your kids don’t listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.” This then can be a challenging thought when we consider our health and fitness. Those who know my story will remember that the final catalyst for me losing 20 Kg and regaining my fitness was after I tried to race my three children in a 100m sprint at the local running track. It’s probably worth mentioning that 100m races had been a passion of mine and as a child and teen I’d gained much success in athletics.
The demands of motherhood temporarily hijacked my fitness, but fortunately for me, I have the privilege of being the daughter of a great role model. My father has worked-out every day (except when sick) since he was fifteen years old. Growing up I thought that all Dad’s loved sport, fitness and possessed six pack abs. The realisation that my father was on another level when it came to fitness went unnoticed by me until I entered my teens. Guys would flex their muscles and act cocky in an attempt to impress me, and I’d be somewhat bemused by this behaviour, because, well heck, my Dad was in better shape. It’s not that I was looking for a guy in better shape than my father, just that to me, I saw exercise as a regular part of a daily routine, like brushing your teeth or eating your tea. It didn’t occur to me that there were other kinds of average physique because muscles were normal.
I now have three children of my own, all in their late teens and I’ve spent much time considering what it means to be a good fitness role model them. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, my best strategies have been the ones I saw my father practice daily.
Here are five helpful ways to help your kids develop a great fitness habit:
1. Lead by example – let them know you work out.
Your kids will do what you do, not what you say to do. When I was young, I spent time watching my Dad play Squash simply because he had a game to play. My father never told me to be “active” or to “work out”. I just wanted to be like my Dad.
2. Plan outdoor activities.
Find activities to do with your family at the weekend. I grew up in Birmingham, it’s the UK’s second largest city and the birth place of the industrial revolution. Like most large cities around the world, it has a high population, limited outdoor space and is a typical concrete jungle. My first home was on the 18th floor of a state owned tenement block in the inner city. My parents, like most parents, wanted something more for me than they had themselves. Through long hours of hard work and doing life tough, they managed to scrape together a deposit on their own home, on the outskirts of Birmingham. It opened up a new world for our family, as it meant we lived closer to open countryside. Finances were tight, but my favourite childhood memories were walking across farm paddocks, to the reservoir that backed onto the Rover Car manufacturing factory. Or, when it snowed my Dad would pull out a large piece of builders polyethene which we’d use as a makeshift sledge. We never had proper walking boots or a real sledge. Instead, we had something of far greater value, a Dad who loved fun, with a zeal for life and who included us in his adventures.
3. Exercise at home.
I find it mind blowing that before the invention of work out videos and personal trainers that my father would come home after a twelve-hour shift and spend the first 30 minutes performing a bodyweight workout. As far as I know, he never attended a fitness class or a gym he just developed his “general stuff” as he calls it, to help him stay in shape.
What is his “general stuff”, well, it’s developed over the years and given he’s now in his seventies it’s as follows:
2-3 Km power walk 4 times a week (or the equivalent of a Marathon a month) + 40 Dumbbell curls & 40 Lateral Dumbbell Raises.
Plus, 3 x weekly: 20 Squats, 40 Press-ups, 250 Curl-ups (broken down into 3 sets of 120 + 80 + 50) & dumbbells as previous.
Another point worth noting is that my Dad monitors his blood pressure, heart rate and weight only once a month. His current resting heart rate is 58.
4. Be the right kind of coach.
One thing I value about my Dad is that he uses positive examples to re-enforce his aims, for instance, when I struggled with an activity, he made sure not to tell me I was doing it wrong. Instead, he encouraged me to explore new techniques with advice and guidance. For example, “Have you tried catching the ball with two hands?” as opposed to “No, that’s not how you catch a ball.”
He was also mindful of his reactions, he didn’t throw water bottles, get aggressive, and I never saw him hold his head in his hands in disappointment. I remember he came to watch me race a 100m at a sports meet. The gun went off, I took two strides, slipped and near face planted. I got up, caught up, saw the approaching tape and I slowed down. My fellow competitor got her toe across the line first and won. I knew I’d let myself down.
My Dad’s reaction, “I saw you stumble, and you did really well to pull that back.” I gave a half-hearted shrug.
“What happened there at the tape?” he said.
“I got scared that it might strangle me and I slowed down.” My Dad said nothing, he just gave me a huge smile and a pat on the back. But, I’m pretty sure he made a mental note that we’d work on that fear another day.
5. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
The Journal of Adolescent Health studied 1328 teens in Germany, where researchers looked at families and their levels of fitness related to their cardiac health and healthy habits.
Researchers noted that the entire home environment matters when it comes to a child’s overall health and fitness. They discovered that parents who have normal healthy weight, good cardiac health and an overall healthy lifestyle had kids who showed the same results.
Let’s suppose that you are your child’s fitness hero. They look up to you as their role model and therefore start to share your beliefs, behaviours and actions. Perhaps, that’s a scary thought, but get it right and who knows what your kids could become. They may even leave a legacy of fitness to your grandchildren tomorrow.
What habits could you pass on to your children to help them live their best life?