Last month I was asked by Mamas and Papas magazine to write an article about exercise which would be helpful to parents.
Here are my thoughts, and you can read the published version by clicking here.
SETTING A GOOD EXERCISE EXAMPLE
Our children’s little bodies were designed for locomotion – it’s essential for the development of their bodies and brains that they keep moving. And it’s a well-established fact that we as adults need to move too, for our health as well as our mental and emotional well-being. Exercise is vital if you want any kind of quality of life, and leaving your children with a positive relationship with exercise and movement is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
In parenting, I’ve found it’s not so much about what you say, as what you do. You may think that by telling your child something important you’re getting the message across, but really they’re watching your body language, actions and life examples for clues about what’s really going on.
Take healthy eating habits for example. Want your child to have a positive relationship with healthy food? Sit down to dinner happily munching on a plate full of veggies every evening, and I can pretty much guarantee your child will grow to love healthy eating too. Throw broccoli and carrots on their plate and tell them it’s good for them while you stick to burgers and pies… Well, you can see where that’s going.
Exercising with our children provides us with one of the best opportunities for bonding, camaraderie and creating lasting memories. Especially important in the 21st century where much of our time spent together involves a screen or device of some sort. A friend of mine talks fondly of morning runs with her dad before school, and this is something they still make time for now, even though dad’s nearly 80. Another friend cycles the Argus with her parents and siblings every year, something she’s done since the age of 10, and will soon introduce her children to. These parents have taught their children an incredibly valuable lesson by setting a good exercise example.
My parents were members of just about every sports club in our community, and I grew up playing games on the sides of tennis and squash courts every weekend, joining in myself as soon as I was old enough. We weren’t amazingly talented sportsmen in my family, but I was lucky enough to learn from a very young age that it wasn’t about being the best, or even being good. It was about staying fit and healthy, socialising and building relationships with the people around you. Again, my parents set the example, were positive role models and embodied health and well-being. Today they take long, brisk walks almost every day, and joining them is always time well spent.
Sending a positive message about exercise to your children while staying active yourself – sounds like a pretty good idea to me! Here are some ideas for you to try.
- Walking, jogging or cycling around the neighbourhood. Once you get started you may even be inspired to work towards a goal like a 5km race – there’s plenty around.
- On that note, have you tried Parkrun? Free, timed runs every Saturday morning all over the world. Plenty of families walk, jog or run part together. Visit parkrun.co.za to find one near you.
- Playing ball in the garden or park. Balls are the ultimate toy, the possibilities are endless.
- Exercise or dance videos. My neighbour used to jump around the living room doing exercise videos with her pre-teen children every evening. It was entertaining but also really inspiring! There’s so much available for free on www.youtube.com these days.
- Join a class together. One of my clients has taken up Karate with her 10 year old daughter, and another is doing Pilates with his teenage son. Quality time spent working towards goals together is priceless.
- Our amazing country has so many outdoor adventures to offer. Go walking every weekend, trying out all the local hiking trails. Start a new family tradition of a monthly hike, and schedule in practice sessions in the lead up to it.
- Join the local sports club. You’ll learn a new sport, meet some new people, have a new place to spend time on the weekends, and may even find yourself travelling to some interesting parts of the country.
- Go swimming. It’s a great form of exercise, and there’s so much fun to be had with your kids in a pool. If you haven’t learnt to swim yet, learn with your children. It’s a vital life-skill that everyone should learn.
The key to a life-long positive relationship with exercise is to make it a personal journey. It’s not about making the sports team or pleasing mom or dad. It’s about doing something for yourself that your body craves and will thank you for. If you can make it a part of your family life in a way that’s fun, social and memorable, you’re setting your child up for a healthy, active lifestyle which they’ll pass on to their children one day too.