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Top tips for exercising with kids at any age

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“I’m tired.” “I don’t have time.” “I’m too busy.” I don’t need yet another excuse for not working out, I’ve come up with enough on my own, but fitting in exercise with kids at home provides a legitimate excuse: “I can’t workout because I don’t have anyone to watch my kids while I exercise.”

I used that excuse until I discovered ways to incorporate my kids into my exercise routine. Parents often feel guilty for taking time for themselves, but exercise is not a guilty pleasure. Exercise not only offers a multitude of health benefits for adults, but it is also beneficial to children. Studies show that kids who exercise regularly have stronger bones, decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, have improved executive function—-the aspect of intelligence that helps us pay attention, plan, and resist distractions and are less likely to be overweight.

This is important because according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Studies show that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.

What can parents do about this? “The key to preventing childhood obesity is to encourage kids to exercise and make it fun for them,” says Stacey Vanderwel, registered dietician and certified pediatric specialist located in Charlotte. Vanderwel goes on to say “Parents teach kids at a young age what they will repeat for a lifetime. Whether that is watching four hours of TV a night, or going for a bike ride after dinner, kids learn to either be active or inactive by watching their parents. The most important way to get kids off the couch is for parents to emulate a healthy lifestyle and set a good example. If parents make exercise seem like a chore or something to dread, children will dread it too. But if parents treat exercise like a reward and a way to relieve stress and relax, kids will learn to learn to appreciate exercise for what it does for their bodies and minds.”

Here are ways to incorporate kids of any age into exercise that both parents and children will enjoy:

Ages 0-2

Newborns may be hard work, but they are actually the easiest age group to incorporate into a workout. Exercising with baby not only benefits mom, but is good for baby too because it helps improve coordination and provides a time to connect and have fun.

“New moms can begin to incorporate exercise back into their routine six weeks post-partum, as long as they have received the clearance from their doctor,” says Kathryn Reaves, exercise physiologist for Carolinas Medical Center. “The goal is to build up to thirty minutes of exercise five days a week, but the good news is that three ten minute segments a day offer the same cardiovascular benefit as one 30 minute session.” This is great news for busy moms, who find it challenging to find 30 minute blocks of time to exercise.

A great way to build up abdominal muscles that are weakened from pregnancy is to do crunches while baby lies on mom’s chest. If a baby can hold his/her head up, mothers can do a V-Up by holding the baby in both hands while lying down with legs and arms straight. In one movement lift the baby up towards your legs as if you’re trying to touch your toes. Lower your body back to the starting position. This is a fun game for the baby and a great abdominal workout for us.

Babies are also the perfect weight for holding while doing lunges, squats and piles. Strap him/her in a secure baby carrier or hug firmly, but gently and enjoy staying close with your little one while burning tons of calories. Little ones can easily be strapped in a jogging stroller for a great run around the neighborhood. It’s great for baby and parents because it gets little ones get some fresh air, and parents get a great workout.

Give tummy time a new meaning by doing planks while baby is enjoying time on their stomach. Planks strengthen all of the core muscles, including the abdominals, back and hips, making it a great exercise for new moms. When a woman is pregnant the abdominal muscles get stretched out and stop working as well as they should. After having a baby, new mothers need to focus on retraining their core muscles to work again and the plank is a great way to recondition abdominal muscles.

Lay your baby on his/her tummy on a blanket on the ground. Facing your baby, place your forearms on the blanket with your shoulders are aligned directly over your elbows. Form a bridge on your toes and forearms, as if you are going to do a pushup. Tighten your abdominal muscles and maintain a flat back. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Babies will build their neck muscles while parents strengthen their core. Often babies get cranky during tummy time because they can’t see their parent’s face and they have to strain to lift up their head, but with parents hanging out at eye level, babies feel less isolated and parents can enjoy bonding time while working their abdominals.

Ages 3-5

I found this age to be the most challenging when it came to maintaining my fitness routine. My son was too big to strap in the jogging stroller, too small to ride a bike on his own and he dropped his afternoon nap, so I couldn’t even find downtime to exercise alone. I had to get creative and rethink my definition of exercise. I pulled out the hula hoops, soccer balls, jump ropes and football cones to set up a fitness playground in the backyard. At this age their attention span is short, so having a variety of fitness activities works best. Set up challenges at each station, and see who can hula hoop the longest, who can do the most push-ups or jumping jacks and who can run in between the cones on the obstacle course the fastest. This also works well for entertaining a group of kids on a playdate. Feel like a kid again by breaking out the old jump rope songs, playing a game of red light, green light or duck, duck goose! This is a great way to teach kids (and remind ourselves) that exercise can be fun.

Ages 6-10

While a 6-year old may be too big to strap in a jogging stroller for a run, he or she can now participate in a workout with the parent. My family started a family game night this summer and it was going really well for the first several weeks, but then we all got tired of Connect 4, Battleship and even playing the Wii. So one night we decided to do something different and have family fitness night instead. We all strapped on our helmets and hopped on our bikes for a trip around the neighborhood and the local park. At first my suggestion was met with a myriad of complaints, but after our ride my son said, “Can we do this every night?” Biking with our kids not only got us all active, but it was a great opportunity to teach safety rules, show the kids around the neighborhood and have fun after a long day of work and school.

Ages 11 and up

By age 11 children may be old enough join their parents on runs and keep their pace. Girls on the Run is a great organization that promotes healthy living and self-esteem to preteen girls. By getting involved in this organization adults can be a part of encouraging fitness for their child, as well as themselves. Families can sign up for local 5Ks or Family Fun Run events. This allows parents and children to set a goal, practice with training and accomplish completing a race together. This gives children and parents a sense of accomplishment and teaches children to practice to achieve a goal.

Exercising with children can be fun and beneficial for everyone involved. It will not only improve a child’s health, but it will create memories to share for years to come.

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