How to be your kids’ fitness mentor

(BPT) – “Do as I say, not as I do,” has never been an exemplary parenting style. As childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years, the need for an active lifestyle has never been greater. If parents make fitness a priority, chances are their kids will too.

“If you’re a parent, whether you’re aware of it or not, you are your children’s fitness mentor,” says Kara Thom, co-author of “Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom” (Andrews McMeel, 2011). “When parents exercise, they increase the odds their children will grow up to be active adults, making fitness a family value and turning exercise into family fun time.”

But it’s not only about fitness. Parents need to encourage their children to lead overall healthy lifestyles – and nutrition plays a big role. Starting kids on proper nutrition plans when they’re younger helps build healthy eating habits for the future. Start by trying to eliminate or decrease known unhealthy ingredients, such as bleached flour, processed sugar, food coloring, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, hormones and trans fats.

For both fitness and nutrition, planning ahead is the key to encouraging kids to live the healthy way of life. Additional suggestions to make fitness important to kids include:

1) Join a fitness center where kid fitness is as important as adult fitness.

If you expect to exercise when you go to the gym, you should also capitalize on the opportunity to get your kids moving. At Life Time – The Healthy Way of Life Company, kids’ programming includes traditional kid classes like martial arts, gymnastics and soccer, as well as pint-size group fitness classes, like Zumbatomic and yoga, so kids get exposed to the same fitness experience as their parents.

“The kids’ programming at Life Time Fitness is designed to show kids that fitness is fun and allows children to discover their interests starting at a young age,” says Jennifer Veres, national senior program manager for kids’ activities at Life Time Fitness.

2) Pursue fitness goals together.

When Nina Hamza, 39, from Deephaven, Minn., signed her children up for kids swimming lessons, she saw the opportunity to sign herself up for adult swim lessons. The results exceeded her expectations. Not only did everyone improve in the pool, they found a way to bond as a family.

“My kids loved that I asked their advice on things; about how to breathe easier or what to do if you get a leg cramp,” Hamza recalls. “Also, I appreciated their hard work more. I was in awe of their ability as I was learning and they were encouraged that I was so impressed by them.” Her kids, who participate on the Life Time Swim Team in Chanhassen, Minn., where she takes her lessons, continue to encourage her with pep talks. “How great is that? They are taking an active interest in their mom’s life,” says Hamza. “That alone is worth the time and effort to learn how to swim myself.”

3) Keep kids engaged in physical activity year round.

It’s easier to schedule lessons and workouts when school is in session and there’s a routine. But when summer comes around, you find your kids at “lump camp,” on the couch with video games. Take some time in the spring to plan out the summer months and schedule physical activity most days of the week, whether they are walking the dog, getting to the neighborhood park, or attending special summer programming that keeps kids on the move.

“Every summer we welcome thousands of kids to our Life Time Summer Camps,” says Veres. “Life Time Kids includes daily activity but also a different weekly theme and field trip.” Because the camps take place at Life Time, kids can also participate in swimming lessons during their camp day, creating one less thing for parents to schedule, and the extended camp hours allow Mom or Dad flexibility to plan their day and get their daily workout in.

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