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For Dads: Fun Family Fitness
Spend this Father’s Day playing outside
It’s June, and Father’s Day is coming up — time to indulge Dad with some R&R, perhaps a favorite beer and a chance to catch a game on TV. Nothing wrong with a little well-earned downtime.
But the best gift a dad could get is one he gives himself: the gift of getting fit. Turns out it’s a gift for the whole family, too, since research shows that when dads engage in healthy behavior, kids are more likely to follow their example.
Let’s face it, we live in an age when obesity is a rising epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control indicate that more than one-third of adults and 19 percent of children are obese, figures that have doubled and tripled respectively since 1980. Few children get the recommended 60 minutes per day of brisk physical activity, and even fewer fathers get close to the daily half-hour of exercise they are advised to get. The National Center for Fathering notes a number of studies that indicate the biggest risk — or benefit — to kids’ health and weight is the behavior of their parents. A father’s behavior has an especially strong impact on his children, particularly daughters.
But dads and kids can take care of each other by being active together. Instead of watching a game on the couch, dads, while your kids play video games in the next room, take them out to the backyard and start playing!
“Play” is the operative word when it comes to getting fit with your family. Adults would do well to take more cues from kids on the fitness front; for them, exercise isn’t about heading to the gym or slogging away on a treadmill ... It’s play time! Children are naturally physical, and it doesn’t usually take much, once we coax them outdoors or into an activity situation, for them to dive right in with energetic enthusiasm.
An added advantage is that the time dads and kids spend together on physical fitness is just that: time together. It’s a win-win-win situation when you can nurture your own well-being, promote your children’s health and bond more closely in the process.
With summer happily here, pursue some family fitness fun from this slate of good-for-you activities.
Got bikes sitting in the garage? Pull them out, pump up the tires, dust off the derailleurs and get going. Find a community path network or a country road, maybe a mountain trail or jeep track if you’re looking for adventure. Rent tandem bikes for a fun change of pace. If your kids are younger riders, consider buying a tandem trailer bike, so you can boost your heart rate without leaving them behind. In addition to biking, try roller-blading. If you’ve got little ones, encourage a young scooter-rider to zip alongside you while you push the baby in the jogging stroller. When there are wheels to ride, the possibilities are exhilarating!
My 11-year-old daughter just ran her first road race alongside her dad when they joined more than 53,000 other runners in one of the country’s biggest 10Ks, the annual Memorial Day Bolder Boulder. They spent the last two months working up to the event and finished in a respectable 55 minutes. Now, they’ve got a goal to surpass that time next year. And who knows? Perhaps a half-marathon is in their future once she hits her teens, if Dad’s knees hold up. With younger children, consider an easier 5K race. Run the Planet lists races and routes for runners worldwide. Check out what’s happening near you. The site also includes lively running games to play with children, which can serve as “effortless” training sessions.
Walk the dog
Got a family pooch? Chances are he needs exercise as much as you do. Our vet says doggie obesity is on the rise, too, as pet owners become less active. Use Fido as an excuse to get moving with the kids. Have them help choose a destination — perhaps the local farmers’ market? Lunch at a favorite burger stand? A tract of undeveloped woods laced with trails and cool shadows? Take turns holding the leash. And vary your pace: Mixing a regular walking rate with short bursts of power striding, especially up hills, acts like interval training and is great for enhancing your cardiovascular capabilities.
Set up a backyard obstacle course
Here’s a chance to get creative with your kids, using stuff lying around the house or garage to make an exciting new venue for outdoor activity. Plan a series of stations that competitors must navigate, and use a stopwatch to determine who’s quickest to complete the course — or set up side-by-side stations and run two at a time; the neighbor kids will be over before you know it! Sawhorses can serve as hurdles; tape big cardboard boxes together to create a tunnel to crawl through; construct a running slalom course with orange construction cones; add hula hoops for 20 hip rotations and jump ropes for 20 skips before moving on to sideways hopping through the rungs of an extension ladder lying flat in the grass … Use your imagination! The kids will get a big kick out of watching Dad try to negotiate the course they’ve had a hand in designing.
What says “summer fun” more than a ball game? Sadly, this traditional childhood activity seems to have fallen out of favor as families spend more time indoors and in front of television screens. Urge your kids to get outside by mounting a basketball hoop and trading jump shots. Go for the goal with an inexpensive backyard soccer net. Grab a football and play some catch, or even better, make it a game of touch (85 calories versus 297 burned in 30 minutes). Invite another family or two over and set up a volleyball net. Play tennis at a local park. Or teach your kids some old standbys from your youth: Remember four square (use chalk on the driveway!) and wall ball?
Choose an active nature outing
The traditional family summer vacation may be a casualty when times are tough financially. But spending time in nature can make hanging out around home feel like a vacation. The whole family gets refreshed and rejuvenated when you’re active in the great outdoors. A local hike is a great way to spend a summer day. Find a trail with a reward at the end, like a mountain lake or a fabulous view from a ridge — an incentive for any hiker. Kids love getting out onto the water, too: Swim at a local lake; rent kayaks for a paddle on a nearby bay; thrill to a whitewater raft trip where everyone helps paddle — that’s a real calorie-burner, and everyone is having such a blast they don’t even realize it.
Make a game of it
Long summer days without the routine of school can sometimes be a challenge when it comes to keeping kids occupied and happy. Adding some humor and lighthearted competition diffuses tension, and playing games together can really ramp up the laughter level. By turning exercise into a game, you’ll enlist your kids’ enthusiasm and quickly increase your own.
Do push-ups with a child on your back, then invite them to match your reps on their own. Have a pull-up contest on a sturdy tree branch with an older child. Challenge each other to a lap swim from shore to dock and back. Grab a Frisbee, paint a bull’s-eye onto an old board or piece of cardboard and hold target practice from a challenging distance. Provide everyone in the family a pedometer and give awards for who has taken the most steps at the end of the day.
You can even turn chores into play: Find some disco music to pop into the boom box (or, if you’re a hip dad, take your iPod dock outside) and make up dance moves as you wash the car. Teach your teen to make checkerboard stripes while mowing the lawn in alternate directions. Have a contest to see who can pull the most weeds the fastest. Even the most tedious tasks can turn into a fun workout with a little creativity and attitude adjustment.
With all these ideas for activity, you’re probably raring to round up the kids and get going. You may also want to know just how effective you’ll be at burning calories while you’re playing. Find out with this handy calorie-burner chart from the American Council on Exercise. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can get fit while having fun with your family!