Parents are unquestionably the number one influence in a child’s life, acting as teachers, mentors, motivational coaches, and role models (among other things!). This is a huge responsibility. Children tend to watch their parents’ every move, imitating their habits and actions.
So, if parents are sedentary, chances are their children will be as well. However, parents who eat a healthy diet and exercise on their own or with their children on a regular basis are teaching them some valuable lessons and setting a foundation for lifelong healthy living.
"When parents promote fitness as an important family value, children are more likely to remain active throughout childhood – even as many of their peers turn to television shows and computer games," says Michelle May, MD, an advisor to the American Academy of Family Physicians' Americans in Motion fitness initiative. "One in seven preschoolers is already overweight, and the number rises in the elementary – and middle-school years. Prevention begins at home."
Set a Healthy Example
Parents should practice what they preach if they want to make a healthy lifestyle a top priority in the lives of their children as they age. Kids often copy what their parents are doing, especially when they are very young. They’ll happily walk away from the TV to join a parent for a walk with the dog, an impromptu dance when a good song pops up on the radio or a fun and bubbly time washing the car. So, get moving throughout your daily life and invite your kids to join you.
Also, make regular exercise a priority in your own life – and then make sure your kids see you doing it. Let them see you go for a run, head to your favorite muscle class or practice martial arts. Make sure you tell them that exercise is important to you.
Make It a Habit
Exercising and eating healthy is less difficult with younger children when you make it part of your family’s regular routine. Try to schedule some time every day to be active as a family – even if it’s just a 15 minute walk at the end of the day, a short game of catch, playing in the pool together or riding bikes around the neighborhood.
Find Out What Interests Your Children
Parents know that children are rarely cut from the same cloth – even within families. Some kids love to play ball, others dislike it. Some kids take to swimming right away, others still struggle after years of lessons.
If we want children to become more active, we have to create opportunities for them move in ways that they enjoy, that interest them and that allow them to feel competent. Let kids take the lead and discover what moves them. It may take a little trial and error, but once they find something they enjoy, they’ll be more likely to stick with it. The worst thing parents can do is try to force fitness into a child’s life without taking their interests and abilities into account. Then, fitness becomes a chore and our efforts will be completely counter-productive. Make if fun and kids will stick with it.
Quality family time is important, especially active family fitness time. So, next time you consider seeing a movie or watching TV together, go bowling, swimming, biking or walking instead!