Families build healthy habits by working out together

Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
June Schmeling is on the comeback trail.

Not long ago, she realized she was an out-of-shape, overweight, middle-aged woman. And she didn't like it one bit. In fact, Schmeling was irked that she'd let herself go.

But she didn't mope. She moved.

Gym membership. Weight Watchers. Less TV.

Now she's getting back on track and, at the same time, teaching her children never to trail off. Several weeks ago, the 43-year-old and her three daughters ages 11, 13 and 15 together made a point to hit the gym.

"I want them to grow up with healthy patterns," Schmeling said. "I hope that, as a role model, I can prevent them from becoming a middle-aged woman who has to chase her fitness."

Fitness is what strapped Schmeling and her 13-year-old daughter, Alicin, to stationary bikes at the Thornton Family YMCA for a Sunday afternoon spin class.

Far from a Sunday walk in the park, the hourlong class is part of a weekend family exercise program spinning, followed by yoga that the Y recently started to keep moms, dads and kids in shape and connected.

The spin class started as a pilot program for families more than a year ago, but never really got off the ground until early this year when yoga was added to the mix, said Mona Burns, Thornton YMCA group fitness coordinator.

"Across the fitness industry, family exercise has become more and more popular," said Burns, who has a 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. "It's easy to plug your kids in front of the television and blame society that they are overweight or picking up bad habits.

"Part of the commitment of raising kids is to provide a healthy environment and that means an active environment."

Active was the key word when Steve Kern saddled the lead cycle to give Schmeling, Alicin and some 10 other spinners a workout.

"I've Got a New Attitude" sung through the stereo, and it was time for what Kern calls the "groan" or the "grind." Translation: pain brought on by mega-fast cycling at the highest of tensions. But that's not required.

In spinning, the rider controls how fast and how hard he or she rides the stationary bike, so it works for all fitness and age levels, 57-year-old Kern said.

"The entire family can do it," he said. "We tend to tailor our class a little bit when kids are here because they are not as focused on working out as the adults are."

But this Sunday, Alicin was the youngest cyclist and the class was all about uphill. As the hour wound down, Schmeling slid off her bike and fanned her sweat-drenched T-shirt. This is the kind of role model she wants to be for her teenage daughter.

"I know I need to be healthy and all," Alicin said. "My mom tells us she doesn't want us to grow up and be overweight like her, so she takes us to work out and we eat healthy. She's changing a lot."

Overweight kids who don't exercise will likely be overweight adults who don't exercise, according to the American Heart Association. But the same goes for children reared in a healthy environment they'll likely be healthy grown-ups.

Not to say it's easy in a world where 10 percent of children are overweight and spend an average of 17 hours a week watching TV, the AHA reports. The health of American kids is quickly waning, and experts, including the U.S. surgeon general, are practically begging parents to get their kids moving and eating better.

And while this mother and daughter tone their bodies, they're fine-tuning family relationships.

"I'm in the corporate world eight hours a day, and my daughters are in the school world all day," Schmeling said. "There's not a lot of commonality in our lives. Working out gives us something to share, something to talk about, a common area and a common bond."

Exercise can have the same effect on romance.

After finishing the same spin class, Melissa Guinn smiled back at her husband, Kirt, who climbed from a bike in the next row. With her long, thin arm, Melissa patted the bike seat like it was old friend.

"You can be a better wife when you've been on this thing," she said. "It's a huge stress relief. I respect Kirt for being physically fit instead of sitting on the couch, watching TV and asking for a beer."

Kirt and Melissa hit the Sunday cycle class regularly, but it's only part of their exercise routine, which includes running together.

"It's time together when we're not being disturbed," Melissa said. "The phone's not ringing, the kids aren't bugging us. It's just us and our lives together. It's like when we were dating, and it was just him and me."

The couple already makes a conscious effort to teach their young daughters, ages 3 and 5, the importance of exercise and healthy habits. The girls are too small for spinning, but they already ask, "Mommy, when can we go jogging with you?"

Exercise isn't packaged in a fitness class or a run. It's taking the stairs, playing with the kids and walking the dog, Burns said. Anyone can make time for it.

"Anybody can find 15 to 30 minutes in their day. That's all it takes," she said. "Even if it's five minutes here and five minutes a little later. Everyone can find time for physical activity."

Even families.

Raising heart-healthy kids

1. Develop good physical activity habits at an early age by setting a good example yourself.

2. Limit TV, movies, videos and computer games to less than two hours a day. Substitute the rest of leisure time with physical activity.

3. Plan family outings and vacations that involve vigorous activity hiking, bicycling, skiing, etc.

4. Give your children some household chores that involve physical exertion, keeping in mind their levels of strength, coordination and maturity. Mowing lawns, raking leaves and taking out the garbage can not only teach responsibility but can be good exercise.

5. Look for sports and activities your children like, then find out about lessons or clubs in your area. Take advantage of your city's recreation opportunities from fun runs to soccer leagues.

6. If it's safe to walk rather than drive, do so. Use stairs instead of elevators. Increase the distances you and your children walk.

7. Discourage homework immediately after school to let children find some diversion from the structure of the school day. Kids should be active after school and before dinner.

8. Free your infant from strollers and playpens as much as possible. Although those items are convenient, try to unleash young children whenever and wherever they can safely move around.

9. When your children are bored, suggest something that gets them moving, like playing catch in the yard or building a snowman.

10. Choose fitness-oriented gifts, such as a jump rope, tennis racket or baseball bat. Select the gift with your child's skills and interests in mind.

Source: The American Heart Association

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