You don't need to choose between "together time" and fitness time" when you combine them.

You don’t need to choose between “together time” and fitness time” when you combine them.

I’m not much of a fan of multi-tasking–except when it comes to fitness. Fitness can be a normal part of life. That means thinking of ways to move your body while being in places you love and with the people you want to be with. It just makes sense.

For a lot of us, that means our families, including children, spouses, and older generations. When I started to make fitness my passion, I focused exclusively on adults. It’s not that I don’t care about kids, it’s just that my rationale was that I was helping parents keep alive and healthy so they could to raise their families. While that’s still my focus, I’ve added something new to my mission: to help entire families be more active together.

So many parents were telling me that they didn’t have time to get exercise for themselves, and that they were torn in a tug-of-war between taking care of their own health and spending the time with their families. So, I thought, why not help them find ways to do both? You don’t need to make the agonizing decision between your own health and your family together time.

Plus, you actually get extra benefits. For one thing, a healthy part of parenting is to spend time together doing fun, health-building things. For another, your kids copy what you do, especially when they are young. Seeing you being active sets a good example for them.

Begin on the Bench
That’s why I was thrilled when a mother told me that her toddler loved my video, “101 Things to Do on a Park Bench.” He knew how to do all the exercises and insisted on watching the DVD everyday. And, she told me, he was not the only one–his friends were attached to it too! So, that’s one place to begin: Take more walks in the park with your family, whether that includes your 3-year-old kids or your 85-year-old grandmother. As you walk, stop now and then on a park bench and do one the exercises in the video. The stretches and exercises are easily adaptable to any level of ability. Make a game of it—see how many push ups you can do, or invent your fun exercises. For instructions on how to do each exercise, see my book, “Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench.”

No "bench potatoes" here--who knew bench + baby= thigh machine?

No “bench potatoes” here–who knew bench + baby= thigh machine?

Parents Share Ideas
And I’ve been talking to parents themselves. There are lots of web sites with advice from various sources, but we all know how sometimes the “experts” might have good ideas that are totally impractical in the real world. What do parents and their kids really like? What do they have the time and money for? And, in particular, what can they do outdoors? There’s so much evidence that playing and activity outdoors is healthier for kids and parents alike—why even bother with the indoor stuff?

I asked local park activist/enthusiast Lourdes J. Hernández-Cordero. Lourdes is my neighbor and the Associate Director of Community Partnerships at City Harvest, Inc. And then I tuned to
Eileen Fuentes, local parent of a 6- 8- and 13-year old, is a breast cancer survivor and founder/director of The SPEACH, a woman’s health organization. She knows the importance of both good food and exercise and likes to combine both. Finally, Denise Hidalgo, who runs her own business told me about a healthy way she spends time with her young adult children.

Here are some of their ideas:

Hula hooping—If Michelle Obama is hooping it must be good!

Tag—There is an infinite variety of tag games and most don’t require any special equipment–just an decent-sized space for running. Remember to teach kids to use the “butterfly” tag—a gentle tap– and no smacking or shoving.

Jumping and hopping games—The classic is hopscotch, which just requires a stick of chalk , some pavement, and a small object to throw.

Tree climbing– Great for coordination, building confidence and strengthening trust (as in “don’t worry Alma, I’ve got your back and won’t let you fall!”).

Playground—Get to the playground, even if just to the play equipment area, as an after dinner option instead of watching TV. Plus, you all get to walk there together.

Hiking—Even during the fall and winter, just wrap up and go. One family even spent last New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day hiking! For tips on dressing for winter, click http://nancercize.net/?p=975

Get out of town–Spend time at a local farm. You can pet the animals and take part in activities like apple-picking.

Combining fitness and food with a visit to a local farm.

Combining fitness and food with a visit to a local farm.

What about Older Children?
I asked Denise Hidalgo, whose children are now young adults. She says “We started running as a family … (when) I signed us up for the Buzz and Woody Best Friends Family 5K. We had a GREAT time… so much fun, in fact, that my daughter and I signed up to do the Disney Princess half-marathon the following year (which we ran in costume: she as Snow White, me as the Fairy Godmother). We trained the entire year, going to a 5-10K race once a month, to get ready.” You don’t need to limit activities to the family, either! I joined Denise and family at the Run for the Wild on the Coney Island Boardwalk, with a great day afterwards at the New York Aquarium and Coney Island.

Other activities that encourage getting outdoors and family fitness:
• Playing catch—all you need is a ball or a frisbee—great for hand-eye coordination for all ages!
• Scavenger hunts –-while walking together, kids search for “treasures,” such as a red leaf, a bird’s nest, a squirrel, or a stop sign. Or try out the techie version: geocaching where you use your smart phone to locate hidden items called geocaches.
• Gardening—If you don’t grow your own, most local parks have volunteer days.
• Swimming—What a treat to swim indoors in winter. Swimming lessons are a great winter holiday gift.
• Canoeing/kayaking—there are usually local programs where you can do this for free.

• Play in the snow—build a snow man, go sledding, make snow angels together.

Whether you travel or stay close to home, there’s no end to the activities you and your family can do together. Not only will you be spending valuable time together, you’ll also be teaching your kids that an active life is a good one. Just be sure to give every family member a role in family fitness time by taking turns selecting activities. This introduces and encourages concepts such as accountability, inclusivity, variety and creativity.

So, what are your favorite ways to be active with your family? We’d love to hear from you.

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