4 Easy Steps for Creating a Family Fitness Plan
I recently read this troubling fact:
“More than 80 percent of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Similarly, more than 80 percent of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.”(4)
We all know that it is important to be physically active, that regular exercise improves overall health and helps to reduce risks for common health problems, and yet most of us are not fit; many of us, together with our families, are far too sedentary.
Fitness and nutrition are hard enough to master as an individual, add into the mix picky kids, extracurricular activities and late nights pulling overtime, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster! How are busy families supposed to get fit and stay healthy?
All members of a family get fit by doing it together.
The best way to achieve fitness goals for the whole family is to make them together, commit to them together, and do them together, while supporting one another. And the benefits are important:
The more involved your family is in physical activity, the healthier they will be.
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to wake me up before school, so she and I could work out to together. Once a week, with my mom, my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and brother, I would take long walks after church. It was such a fun time together, I remember it fondly. This is what inspired me to get active with my kids.
It may seem too much like herding cats to get the whole family together to exercise, but I have been doing it with my kids since they were babies.
I first committed to one time of day that worked best for all of us: after dinner. Then I decided to make it fun. Together we do a mixture of activities, and the kids get a say in what we do. My son loves to do jumping jacks, play catch, and my daughter loves practicing yoga and stretching. I love martial arts, walking, hiking, or running. I mix these up and add in appropriate weight lifting and bodyweight exercises too. Doing it together really inspires me to keep up, especially when I see the children smiling and having a great time.
Making Family Fitness a Priority
Starting a family fitness plan may seem daunting, but if you don’t make it a priority, it will never happen. Based on my experiences, here are some steps anyone can use to create a family fitness program that will last:
Step 1 – Call a Family Meeting
If this is going to be a family affair, everyone should be involved and invested from the beginning. Now is a very good time to hire a certified fitness trainer to get you started. This trained professional can assess your family’s current fitness and help guide the planning of workouts. Working with a certified fitness professional is great for accountability, and you’ll learn safe and effective exercises for everyone in your family.
Whether or not you are working with a trainer, discuss your current physical activity levels with your family. Ask each member to honestly evaluate where they stand. There are four levels of physical activity:
- Inactive - Someone who is inactive does nothing more active than those activities associated with daily living, like cooking, cleaning, or getting dressed.
- Low - Low activity includes some extra activity, like walking, playing sports, or doing planned workouts, but not more than about 150 minutes per week.
- Medium - At a medium level, you are doing between 150 and 300 minutes of extra activity per week.
- High - High activity levels include anything above 300 minutes or five hours of extra activity per week.
Once you have discussed your current activity levels, talk about where you should be and how you can get there. Consider any injuries or health limitations and then brainstorm activities you can all do together.
Talk about healthy eating habits too, and positive changes you could all make. Above all, support and respect each other and making this an exciting adventure for the entire family, Even the smallest step towards a healthy lifestyle can make a significant impact on each of you.
Step 2 – Be Active Together Every Day…or at Least as Much as Possible
Now is the time to really commit to finding a time that will work for everyone, every day if you can, although it is important to be realistic. Aim to be active together for at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Make a list of fun ways to exercise together, and stick to the routine.
For days when it just isn’t possible to be active together, use fitness trackers to help keep each other accountable. You can even make a fun game out of it. Have a contest for the most steps, or add them up together and set a monthly goal. Reward the whole family if your goal was met.
Just like brushing your teeth, a new healthy commitment will get easier to do, if you make it a regular part of your day, a habit. Here are a few activities you and your family can try that my family has found are fun to do regularly. Alternate the exercises, and add a few of your own:
- Make it fun, play games. Play ball, catch, tag, or jump-rope. Tag and most ball games are fun for kids, but also give adults a great cardio session. Ask your family which games they like best, or make one up.
- Walk Fido together. Even your dog can be included in the new family fitness plan and achieve benefits. If you don’t have a dog, ask a neighbor or friend if they would like their dog walked. Children love responsibility and this can keep them motivated to stay active.
- Walk laps. Before grocery shopping or entering the mall, walk a couple of laps together with your family. At our local grocery store, we have figured out that four laps equal one mile.
- Ride bikes. If your children are old enough to ride their bikes, this can be one of the best exercises families can do together. It’s fun, easy, and accessible for most everyone.
- Try a DVD. If the weather is crummy, a workout DVD may come in handy. Beginner level workouts and yoga are great choices for the whole family.
- Check out local recreation centers and parks. Your city or local community may have a lot of great recreational locations that you never knew about. Try the YMCA for family-friendly classes and local parks for hiking trails or sporting fields.
- Try bodyweight exercises. Do squats, push-ups, lunges, calf raises, crunches and jumping jacks together. If you have a small baby, you can prop them in front of you and make silly faces, or hold them while you do a set.
Step 3 – Plan Meals Together
Fitness is important, but without proper nutrition, your efforts are not as effective as they could be. Extend family fitness time into family meal time.
Start by writing a menu each week. Make sure each meal follows the 1-2-3 Nutritional Rule-of-Thumb. This is approximately one part fat, two parts protein, and three parts carbohydrates for each meal. (2)
This nutrition plan works great for beginners and families because it makes planning easier. It is also a simple and safe way to burn fat for those who are weight training and exercising. Check with your child’s school and make sure they are getting a well-balanced diet that fits this. If not, pack their lunch or request they be offered more nutritional meals according to this guideline.
You can devote each evening to prepping lunch together, too. My children love packing their dad’s and my lunches. It is a great time to teach one another about the importance of certain food groups, and which to avoid.
Studies have shown that families who eat meals together promote healthy conversations, and are closer to their normal weight range. These families also have better overall dietary eating habits than those families who eat few meals together. (1)
Step 4 – Make and Keep Family Goals
Setting specific and achievable goals is so important to making positive changes. Ask your family what goals they may have and then set some together.
For example, if the goal was to walk around the block once this week, set a goal to walk it twice next week. You can also set healthy eating goals. For example, if you currently have a lot of sweets or soda in the pantry, the goal could be to have all sweets out of the house by the end of the month and not to replenish them.
It also helps to mark the goals on the calendar and to keep a progress chart, (kids love stickers). Then, help your family to be accountable for these goals together. Accountability is an effective way to ensure that the family stays on track and rewards make it more fun.
Now, Get Moving
Fitness and healthy eating habits can and should be made a priority in every family. By taking the time for family activities, your family will start to form healthy habits that are hard to break.
Setting goals, staying accountable, adding rewards, eating more meals together, and above all tackling fitness together, will help your family take steps toward better health. Get started now, because what you teach your children today is what they will take with them into adulthood.
Get moving together and have fun with it!
1. Hammons, Amber J., and Barbara H. Fiese. "Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?" Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2011. Web. 09 Jan. 2017
2. Hatfield, Frederick C. "Unit 19 Determining An Appropriate Nutrient Ratio." Fitness: The Complete Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports Science Association, 2001. 498-507. Print.
3. PA Guidelines, Chapter 1. ODPHP, 2008. Web. 2017.
4. "Physical Activity." Physical Activity | Healthy People 2020. ODPHP, 2017. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.