By Rhonda Aronwald
Making exercise part of family fun is easier than you think.
When Group Health member Mikala Woodward and her two kids were looking for a fun activity they could do together regularly, they rolled right into it — family skate night at the local rink.
"Rollerskating is something we all enjoy that's good for our bodies and gets us out into the world," says Woodward. "At the end of the evening we're sweaty, tired, and ready for bed."
"Parents who exercise with their kids act as role models and help build lifelong habits for better health and fitness," says Cicely White, MD, whose practice is at the Group Health Medical Centers Veradale clinic in Spokane. "Family members also motivate one another and everyone wins."
Dr. White helps facilitate Countdown to Healthy Living, a pilot program that is testing whether obesity in kids can be curbed when the whole family gets involved in healthy eating and exercise. Exercise can reduce stress, prevent disease, and promote better sleep, higher energy levels, and a stronger immune system. Done as a family, exercise also encourages bonding and better emotional health for all.
"Interacting through play builds relationships and trust so that kids feel more open to talk with parents or caregivers," says Dr. White. "Additionally, shared activities set up an environment for positive reinforcement — praising kids builds their confidence."
Getting fit and having fun doesn't require a lot of money or even warm weather and sunshine. YMCA Wellness Coach Nicole Manus, who works in partnership with Dr. White on the Countdown program, creates playful workouts for families that can be done indoors or out, with simple and inexpensive equipment. Favorite activities include scavenger hunt races and cardio drumming using laundry baskets or boxes as drums.
"Kids consistently tell us that exercise is more fun with friends and family than it is by themselves," says Manus. "Kids also know how to get a good workout using just their bodies and can reintroduce their parents to the joys and benefits of active play."