Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Make Running a Fun Family Activity

It is no secret that there is a dire need to get kids out of the house, away from the video games and outside to get their daily dose of exercise.  One way to do this is by making fitness a family affair.  Many moms and dads run, ride their bike, practice martial arts and play sports, but few realize the many benefits these activities can provide for their children. 

One of the best and easiest activities to turn into a family affair is running.  Running is one of the best exercises for the human body and one that can be done anywhere, at any time, with virtually no equipment needed.  It promotes a healthy lifestyle, helps improve mood and gives the body one of the best overall workouts around. 

Benefits of Running for Children
One of the most obvious reasons to get kids into the habit of running is the benefits it provides both mentally and physically.  Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association have demonstrated that children who are physically active, either through team sports or running, do better academically and have a more positive outlook on health.  Regular participation in physical activities is also associated with improved cardiovascular health, both in childhood and adulthood, reduced risk of diabetes, improved sleep, stronger bones and improved immune system function. 

In addition to the countless health benefits of physical activity and running as a family, running together also makes for excellent family bonding time.  It is also a time for parents to lead by example and show their children that fitness is an important habit that must continue into adulthood. 

How to Turn Running into a Family Affair
Getting into the habit of running as a family should begin even before children come along.  As a couple, a husband and wife can begin to make fitness a way of life by running together prior to having children and while expecting. 

Running with Your Spouse
Often times, one spouse is an avid runner and the other does not feel like he or she can keep up.  The other spouse is usually the cheerleader and is hesitant to participate.  Consider asking your spouse to join you for a run and ensure him or her that you will run at their pace.  After a few runs together, sign up for a 5K and start making running a competitive activity that you can do as a team.  This can not only motivate your spouse, but turn him or her into a lifetime runner. 

Running as a Family
After you and your spouse have made the commitment to run together and make it a family activity, you can have your children join you.  Even when babies are only a few weeks old, they can come along for a family run. They may be in a stroller but they will still learn by seeing what mom and dad do on a regular basis.  The habit is created early on and can be solidified as children get older. 

Tips for Running with Babies and Toddlers
Obviously, babies and toddlers cannot ride their bikes or run alongside their parents, but they can still be a part of the activity.  A baby can be in a jogging stroller in a car seat with an adapter and plenty of cushioning to support the head and neck weeks after being born.  After a baby is 6 months old, he can be in a jogging stroller without a car seat while mom or dad push him along their running route.  Many moms continue running with their children in strollers until they are five or six years old and strong enough to follow along in a bicycle.  Once kids can ride a bicycle, mom and dad can run while their son or daughter rides their bike alongside.  Although they are not necessarily running, they are still playing an active role in a family fitness activity and will grow to love running just as they see their parents doing. 

In addition to running alongside mom and dad, parents can also incorporate running with their toddlers through games.  Playing hide and go seek, tag, races to the mailbox and red light, green light are all ways to get your children running while making it fun.

Tips for Running with Pre-Teens and Teenagers
By the time children are in the late elementary years, they will be able to take part in a short distance run.  When going running with children for the first time, it is important to take it slow and begin with a warm up walk.  After warming up, interval running will help ease your children into longer runs as time goes by.  Interval runs include some walking and some running.  At first, most of the run will consist of walking.  Once your children improve their cardiovascular fitness, stamina and endurance, they will be running more than walking, and eventually be able to run without walking.  To begin an interval run, it is recommended that you run for a one to two minutes, then walk for another four to five minutes.  Repeat this interval several times, slowly increasing the running time and decreasing the walk.  After several weeks of doing this, your children will be able to run two to three miles with minimal to no walking. 

Regardless of how old you are when you decide to begin running or how old your children are when you decide to make running a family affair, it is never too late to start.  With fitness programs slowly diminishing in schools throughout the country, it is important that parents take the lead and show their own children how to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.

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