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Your Family New Year's Resolution: Get Healthy

Staying fit as a family while having fun

January 2012

It's easy to make New Year's resolutions to get fit and Healthy, but always a bit daunting to keep them. However, working as a family to make wellness goals a reality might just make all the difference, according to the experts.

"As parents know, it can be challenging to change diets, especially for kids," said Jenna Defore, registered dietitian for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. "Ask your kids for their input, what they will try. Have them help plan a menu and assist with preparation. You don't have to change everything at once, so consider deciding as a family where you would like to start."

With very young kids, Lindsay Willard, fitness supervisor at the Monon Community Center, suggests leading by example. "[Children] model their behaviors after their parents, so why would you not want to be a good, healthy strong role model for your child and show then that mommy and daddy enjoy eating healthfully?"

And what about exercise? "Although traditional exercise is a great way to get physical activity, it is not the only way to be active together," said Anne Graves, M.S., ACSM HFS, director of health initiatives and partnerships for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis.

"Any activity that gets kids and adults moving can be considered physical activity. Be creative. Think about things you can do at home such as a family dance party or creating an obstacle course."

Katherine Matutes, PhD and Jewish Community Center fitness and wellness program coordinator, added, "Swap couch/television time for playing an [active] game or going for a walk after dinner. On family outings, park the car farther away and challenge everyone to take the stairs at every opportunity."

"With younger kids," Matutes continued, "playing games and keeping exercise fun is key to holding their interest. Tossing a ball in the front yard is an easy activity for all ages. Teens are a bit trickier, but can usually be persuaded to get involved in family exercise if they are permitted to invite a friend to tag along. A family hike in the park can get everyone moving, allowing the teens a little distance from the adults and still accomplishing the goal of exercising together."

In these winter months, Willard encourages families not to let the cold weather get in the way. "That's why they make coats, and hats and mittens," she smiled. "Every Saturday, my husband and I take our 19-month-old son to Founders Park. He runs and plays, points out the fossils, shows us bugs and has so much fun. He doesn't seem to mind the cold [because] he's too busy exploring."

The key to keeping new health and fitness resolutions, said Defore, is to ask, "What can you realistically do. Choose one or two things that you as a family agree you would like to start with. Look for opportunities to be physically active and incorporate healthier choices into your diet that fit in with your lifestyle, versus changing your entire routine."

It also helps to explain why you're making these resolutions, according to Julie McKenney, director of the IU Natatorium.

"Remember, when interested, children do listen to what their parents are saying, [so] make that learning enjoyable. Also, use analogies they can relate to and understand. You may have a family member (or pet) who has recently become more healthy and now has more energy, elevated mood, etc. Point out and focus on the positive results of a healthy lifestyle."

Avoid one big pitfall, said Matutes, "Don't over do it! Changing too many habits at once is sure set up for failure." And realize that it may take a little time to see the results you want.

Those results, however, will be worth it! Once your family is in the health and fitness groove, the benefits are sure to be bountiful. "Better sleep, elevated mood and concentration," said McKenney, "in certain cases, fewer allergies, improved body composition, lower blood pressure...better grades in school, etc."

And the news just gets better, confirmed Matutes. "When families exercise together and eat well, children establish exercise and healthy eating as an expected behavior and that becomes their norm — a behavior pattern they are much more inclined to continue throughout life."

"Imagine a world where a healthy regime is the new norm," declared McKenney. "With the health care challenges in today's society, it's a moral imperative that all of us take the initiative to construct a healthy lifestyle for our families."

Tags: In This Issue, Health, Pediatric Health

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