The unhealthiest generation needs our help. More than 9 million overweight children in the United States are at risk for depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Not to mention heart disease and stroke as adults. Meanwhile, gym classes are fading. Less than one in 10 schools meets federal exercise requirements.
You can help by using our simple fit plan. It works for both children and adults. So your whole family will look and feel better-and your children will learn health and fitness lessons that last a lifetime.
1. Make Fitness a Top Priority
Many kids face the same workout saboteur as adults: Fitness is an afterthought. But creating a detailed fitness plan works for both adults and teens. When Ohio State University researchers helped high-school students plan to work out, 80 percent of the kids who had previously spent no time exercising outside of school became physically active in their free time. Merely committing change to paper can make it real. It’s like a declaration of independence from fat. Sign on.
2. Set Aside 5 Minutes on Sunday
Jot down when you’ll train this week, and include the exercises that will help you hit your goals for each session. For instance, you might aim to strengthen your upper body on Monday-use pushups and pullups, or rows and bench presses. Train your lower body with squats and running on Wednesday or Thursday. Then plan an active outing for the weekend. Multiply by 52 weeks, and it’ll be a whole new health equation for you.
3. Bulk up the Specifics
As your exercise plan takes hold, include more details, such as sets and reps. Do the same for your kids. Script every minute, from water breaks to instruction time, says Brian Grasso, president of the International Youth Conditioning Association and FitSchools faculty member. It won’t appear regimented to the kids, he says, but the structure is a stress reliever for adults. Plus, setting mileposts along the way makes it easier to reach the finish line.
4. Assemble an All-Star Team
Draft supportive teammates. “To stick with exercise long term, you need social support and you need to have fun,” says Jim Liston, C.S.C.S., FitSchools faculty member. Band with friends to get in shape for a 10-K or a hut trip in the Rockies. For kids, start and end play with high-fives or a cheer. And encourage camaraderie by acknowledging each person’s participation.
5. Schedule a Fitness Date
Sign up for tennis class, dance or yoga with your spouse. Children with active dads are 3 ? times more likely to exercise than those with inactive dads. But when both mom and dad are active, kids are a whopping 6 times more likely to exercise, according to a 2006 report published in the Journal of Sports Medicine.
6. Upgrade Your Health-Every Day
Nobody shapes kids’ lives more than their families, says David Jack, life and sport director of Teamworks Centers, and FitSchools faculty member. A powerful way to lead is by making healthy choices every day. Think of it as 365 childhood obesity interventions in a year. If just 10 percent of the men reading this magazine follow through on this one step, that’s more than a million interventions, which is more powerful than any change an organization can inspire.
7. Fake Your Way to a Good Sweat
Want to stay fit for life? Find activities you truly enjoy, and display your enthusiasm after a good workout. Not feeling it? Pretend. “We want to show kids that fitness is fun,” says Jack. “Nothing motivates kids more than a fun challenge and a fired-up leader.” When exercise was fun or playful, 83 percent of overweight, obese, and severely obese children did it consistently, report U.K. researchers. Kids who took part in 10 weeks of sports and games viewed exercise more positively and were more likely to engage in fitness activities again.
8. Kickstart Their Confidence
Overweight kids who are taunted are two to three times more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. But perhaps what’s most disturbing is that parents and siblings-not just school bullies-frequently tease overweight kids; 32 percent of them experience verbal abuse. Even as their psyches are being wounded, so are their bodies. “The more social and emotional problems kids have at school, the less likely they are to become involved in activities and sports,” says social psychologist Robert Crosnoe, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin.
9. Make Exercise a Reward, Not a Punishment
If you’ve ever watched “fat-to-fit” reality shows, you’ve witnessed running and pushups performed as punishment. “It’s absurd,” says Liston. “If you punish kids with exercise, how can they ever love it?” Likewise, if the only time you exercise is the Monday after a dissolute weekend, then you will associate exercise with painful payback. Remember, exercise is something you and your kids should do for fun. Your dog wags his tail before a walk; build that sense of anticipation into activities you pursue and suggest to your kids.
10. Take Charge
Kindergarten students gain more weight when they’re not in school, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health. In the study, body mass index (BMI) rose twice as fast when kids were on summer vacation than when they were in school. So whether it’s Thanksgiving break or just a long weekend, parents can help children stay fit by standing in for their gym teacher. You’ll all exercise more.