I’m no athlete. No sprinter, leaper, kicker, shooter, no no, not me. Sure, I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve worked my body into a shin-splinted ball of muscle. I’ve been variously addicted to netball, surfing, volleyball, swimming, aerobics, weight-lifting, yoga and pilates – in that order, but these sessions have always been short-lived.
It hasn’t taken me long to slip into a self-imposed sabbatical from exercise – usually at a time when I’ve probably needed its stress-busting, mind-numbing effects the most. Post-love affair. Post-loss-of-my-mother. Post-children. Mid-overworkload. Mid-choc attack.
I’m not daft. I understand how vital exercise is to the heart, the brain, the muscles, the pelvic floor sling. It’s just that I have so much to do. So much to achieve, and an hour on the treadmill often gets wedged firmly in the way, so too frequently these vital heart-pumping sessions become relegated to the too-hard pile.
It was a large glassful of guilt, then, that I had to swallow when my eight-year-old daughter Ella told my mother-in-law I wasn’t walking enough; that she worried about me because I was doing so much sitting and that the castors on the chair in my office got more of a workout than my legs. In fact, she even embellished the story and told Granny I ride that chair from my office to the kitchen and back, like a domestic cowgirl at a suburban rodeo in search of refrigerated refreshment.
But it wasn’t the embellishment that was horrifying. It was because my daughter is absolutely right (about the exercise, not about the chair riding – I have more dignity than that).
There’s more to all this, however.
Not only did I have to swallow the glassful of guilt over what I’m doing to my own body, I also had to swallow another gallon of guilt at the example I’m setting my daughter. Ella ain’t no marathon runner but she is an active girl; loves to dance, trampoline, rollerblade, gymnastic. But she’s also partial to lazing around on soft pillows and fluffy rugs, nibbling on marshmallows whilst burying her eyes in a book (wonder where she got that from?), so it’s important, as a parent, that I remember to impress upon her the importance of moving her behind.
Our son Riley (pictured) has got it sorted. He kicks soccer goals in his sleep and simply cannot stop moving, twitching, stretching, leaping. But no matter that this comes naturally to him – instilling a love of physical fitness and healthy eating as a permanent lifestyle choice is vital, even in the youngest children. And what more powerful way to show kids just how vital, than through example?
Sure, I’ve worn a bum-groove into the couch and stuffed chocolate en masse, but I do at least stand on the sidelines yelling at the kids to break a sweat. Doesn’t that qualify for something? I also fill our entire family’s bellies with lashings of healthifying stuff. But I’m still not setting an example on the fitness front. Husband is out running 15km in the cold while I drive home with the heating on. Riley is thrashing a soccer skin on the back lawn in the early evening damp while I’m blowing the hot off a cup of liquid chocolate. Ella is dancing up a storm on the floorboards while I’m slipping inside the snug envelope of a throw rug to watch her and clap voraciously (does clapping count as exercise?).
Ways to Encourage Kids to Get Active
- Show by example! Very powerful stuff.
- Have equipment on hand to encourage fitness. Skipping ropes, balls, trampolines, bicycles, even a totem-tennis pole stuck deep into the lawn.
- If you are working, look into after school programmes that offer physical fitness.
- Talk about fitness and how it affects our bodies, hearts and minds. Also talk about fitness and food choices in the same beat.
- Consider having your child coached in their favourite sport. Worth every cent – not only for the physical factor, but for the keeping-them-busy-and-not-smashing-letterboxes-with-baseball-bats factor.
- Commit as little as ten minutes a day to running around the yard with the kids or putting on some music for a boogie.
- Encourage outside play.
- Be supportive, positive and upbeat when a child is having trouble with a physical activity.
- Offer rewards and praise when your child is active.
- Set up playdates that involve sport; kids love to do things with friends.
- Do something physical on the weekends, as a family, even if it’s going for a walk. Hiking is great fun.
- Get your child involved in physical chores like gardening, mopping, sweeping, tidying up the house, washing the car (yes, I know this one is brazen).
- Match the physical activity to the season (swimming in summer and football in winter) to make them more likely to participate.
- Limit the amount of time children spend on video games, the computer and watching TV. Use these activities as a bargaining tool – if they run around the house fifteen times, they get two minutes on the Wii.
- Make physical activity a part of everyday activities – such as brushing teeth – and it will more readily become instilled in a child’s permanent lifestyle.
So. Am I a fit example to my kids? No. No, I’m not. Not consistently so, anyway. I really need to step things up. Like… up a step. And on a bike and in a swimming pool.
Sigh. I know I can do it. I just have to convince my legs to release their dependence on castors.
Tania McCartney is the author of two books and a regular contributor to Australian Women Online. For more information about Tania visit her website www.taniamccartney.com