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Fitness should be a family affair

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For kids, summer brings soccer fields, backyard baseball and hide n’ seek in the dark. At least that’s how it used to be. It’s up to parents to get kids outside again.

Do you remember those long summer days that went on forever? You were outdoors until after dark. Even in the rain. Up and out the door after break- fast, biking up the street with a hockey stick across the handlebars to meet up with the neighbourhood kids. Playing flag war or Annie over until your parents called you in.

A steady pattern of technology over a game of red rover is a troubling trend. The more video games, Internet and sloppy parent- ing practices consume today’s youth, the less likely it is to see a street hockey tournament on a Saturday afternoon.

According to a Canada Health Measures Survey in 2010 more than 26% of children and youth are overweight, 60% do not get the required daily physical activity for optimum growth and development, and 93% are not meeting Canada’s physical activity guidelines (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology).

While in the past it never dawned on kids to sit around inside, it isn’t too late to give your kids memories like the ones you had growing up. Holly Bond is one parent who gave her head a shake and made family fitness not only a priority, but a household rule.

“I was a pharmaceutical rep and I read constantly about the increase in diabetes among children and the fact that it was due to inactivity and obesity,” Bond recalls. “My son was 13 at the time, and although I was extremely active, going to the gym at least once, sometimes twice a day, he was overweight.”

“I spoke with him about it and he said if he could play video games and exercise it would be so much fun. So, I created a company called Bulldog Interactive Fitness and opened the first location in Dartmouth, NS in 2005,” she says. Bulldog was sold and franchised in 2008.

“It was a place where kids could come and socialize and have fun, playing video games while they exercised, until they felt comfortable and progressed to more traditional exercise when their self-esteem increased,” says Bond.

This philosophy remains sound. Kids respond to what they know — incorporate it, as Bond did with video games and her son’s routine, into something positive and exciting. Make it fun. That big open space called out- doors is always looking for new members.

The responsibility lies with parents. They buy the junk food. They watch TV while yelling at their daughter to get off the computer. “If you want your kids to respect food, exercise and health, be a role model,” says Bond. “If they hear you complain about having to go to the gym, guess what they will think?”

Frank Davies, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campground in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley shares the same sentiment. “The hardest thing about families right now is what’s happening with the Internet and the games — it’s taken a lot of the kids away,” he says. Davies and his wife, Stefani, have been running Yogi’s for 17 years and they see the effects parents getting involved in outdoor activities have on their kids. “Just go out on the properties and watch the families interacting. You know damn well they don’t do it at home,” he says.

Bond saw similar results in her time with Bulldog Fitness. “The kids sleep more soundly and get up without you having to yell at them. Their marks improved. Their self-esteem improved. Their eating habits improved. Parents loved it.”

The main idea is for parents to take control of their children’s physical health practices. Just as the kids make their beds every day, so should they get some exercise. It doesn’t have to be a chore. If the parents go the extra mile, the kids will too. 

Tips for staying active with your kids!

Start hiking. Outdoor writer Jeff Alt started taking his kids on hikes before they could walk. No matter how old your child is, hiking is easy and a great way for children to learn about nature, he says. Setting a good example early on will lead to responsible, healthy life choices.

Let the kids lead. Ask what they would like to do and make it happen. If money is an issue, do your best to think of a similar alternative. Don’t stifle their excitement. There are provincial programs that help parents put their kids in sports.

Walk instead oF driving everyWhere. Leave the keys at home and take a stroll to the store, post office, school, wherever.

Bring Friends. Make it a group activity by inviting a buddy along. Set up a schedule and take turns with other parents.

Make a chart and reWard healthy activities. Set reasonable goals with your kids and teach them to record the active choices they make on a chart on the fridge. Reward them once they meet their goal.

More Insight: Check out this cool article on child obesity and fitness.


  • Alex Hurst is a writer for HUM@Nmedia covering Optimyz and Silver magazines in print and digital editions and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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