Step into spring: Make exercise fun by getting fit with your children
If you're struggling to find time to get into shape, incentivise yourself and have fun by getting fit with your child. Dearbhala Cox-Giffin has some suggestions
We all know that it can be so difficult to fit in that hour at the gym or to get time to squeeze in a Pilates class, especially if you have young children and sleep is a priority. You'd like to lose weight or get fit, but it's hard enough just to fit all your work and family life commitments into the day, so why not look at it differently and exercise with your child?
There's a double dividend as not only does playing and being physically active develop stronger muscles and bones, improve emotional wellbeing, and promote better sleep patterns for children, but you get fit at the same time.
We regularly hear about the health benefits for both adults and children and are aware that the recommendation for young children is to have at least 60 minutes of active play every day, but this can be a challenge for some parents to fit in to the working week.
If you can't take a full hour activity break each day, try to provide at least two half-hour periods or four 15-minute periods in which your child can engage in vigorous and fun activities to get their heart rate up and blood circulating.
Physically active children have lower levels of body fat, lower cholesterol, and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life and paediatric studies show a link between regular, physical activity in children and an increase in cognitive ability. The key is to choose an activity that will work for everyone. The simplest option is to get outdoors and take a family walk, jog, or bike ride and use a jogging buggy or child seat on the bicycle for younger children, or they could ride their tricycles or bikes around the park while you power walk or jog. It's great for all the family and it's free.
Start family exercise time when your baby is young so that it becomes an accepted part of your family life and is not viewed as a chore. It helps to think of exercise as leading an active lifestyle with your children and you will probably fit in more than you realise.
If you keep exercise fun and varied, you're more likely to keep at it and you will all enjoy it. Many gyms and community centres offer fitness programs designed for new mothers and babies where your child is actively involved in the programme.
Babies and toddlers often spend a lot of time observing the world from their car seats or buggies, so add some exercise to their day by putting colourful objects such as rattles just out of their reach so that they stretch or roll over to reach the it; once they are crawling, get on your hands and knees and crawl with them, even have a crawling race in your garden.
As your child gets older and more active, you can introduce a whole range of fun exercise options. Get wet with your child and go swimming together. Young children love playing in the water and there are so many ways to exercise whilst having fun. Diving, playing tag and playing jumping and floating games are all ways of exercising while having fun as a family.
Go the park or play outside in the garden together. Try playing games that incorporate movement, such as Simon Says, hopscotch, skipping and hide-and-seek, and with younger children, use the swings and slides in the park, and play chase.
Children love ball games: use hoops, make your own goal posts, have dribbling or ball-bouncing races. If you are brave enough, you can play ball games inside-use a big plastic ball, everyone lies down on the floor with their feet up in the air. Then hold the ball with your feet, and work together to throw and catch it. Make sure that you have cleared a space and that there is nothing breakable in the way!
Another fun game with balls is to pair up with your child holding a bath towel between you and try to toss and catch a lightweight ball from towel to towel and if you're inside, use a soft beach ball to avoid breakages. Count how many times you can toss it before it hits the ground.
Dancing is another great exercise option and it's always great fun - turn the music up and show your child your moves.
Keeping fit with your child brings you together and provides a sense of achievement and a greater focus on life and motivation. You will find that when you make fitness a part of family time, it will become as natural as eating dinner together. It doesn't have to be hard work. It can be great fun and one of the best parts is, the fitter you get, the more energy you will have to enjoy life.
Dearbhala Cox-Giffin is Director of Childcare at Giraffe Childcare;