Better Fitness For Your Family

Cheryl Richards and her children, Tyler and Brie Hines, played croquet, then took their dog, Oliver, for a walk during an afternoon in July. They were getting exercise and having fun together. That's certainly not an original concept. But in an era of an exploding array of technology that keeps people inside--including Blue-Ray DVDs, TiVo, XBoxes and Play Station--in addition to work schedules and security concerns, fewer families are going out to play.

That's a shame, said Richards, an exercise physiologist in the cardiac rehabilitation department of BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Normal, Illinois, and Sheri Gatto, director of the Center for Healthy Lifestyles at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, Illinois. Playing together is a good way to burn calories, get exercise and bond as a family, they said.

And the play doesn't have to be intense.

You don't have to be in a sports camp or in a competitive sport to get exercise this summer. Some kids and adults mistakenly think they aren't athletic because they aren't in an organized sport.

The time has come for average families to reclaim fitness, exercise professionals said. The focus should be activity for fun, not to win awards. Summer is a good time to get out.

Parents who ask their kids to come outside to play with them may be surprised at their response.

"Kids don't like to be bored," Gatto said. "Include activity and the kids will be a lot happier."

Richards said, "We all have to have things we enjoy to keep us moving. The patients I see in cardiac rehab who are doing the best are the ones who are active."

One reason to reclaim fitness was in the news recently. The American Journal of Public Health reported that kids gain more weight during the summer than during the school year.

"We know kids are less active with both parents working," Gatto said. Less active children have led to an increase in childhood obesity, she said. Obesity can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

In the short term, obesity can lead to lower self-esteem, Richards said.

Even busy families can fit in fun fitness.

"Integrate fitness into your day," Gatto suggested. "If you have a 30-minute block of time, take your children and your dog for a walk."

During the day when you're at work, make sure the kids spend some time outside. If safety is a concern, organize a play day with a neighbor family or make sure the kids stay in the back yard.

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