- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

Physical activity has become a family affair in the Daley-Harris household. Long-distance runner Shannon Daley-Harris, her husband, Sam, and their children, Micah, 5, and Sophie, 2, go for three-mile runs at least once a week.

The children aren’t exactly running: Sophie is in a green jogger stroller, and Micah rides a red Schwinn bicycle.

“It’s a nice way to get exercise and still not sacrifice precious family time,” says Mrs. Daley-Harris, who lives in Southeast.

Local doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say children whose parents and siblings are physically active are more likely to be in and remain in good physical shape. What better time to start than Jan. 1?

Being active doesn’t mean having to run marathons together, which wouldn’t be appropriate for a child anyway, but rather incorporating some fun physical activity, daily if possible, into the schedule, says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, an Annapolis internist.

“Do something that’s fun because only if it’s fun will you and the children continue doing it,” Dr. Teitelbaum says. “I go to the playground with my grandbabies for a couple of hours, and I get a better workout than I would at the gym.”

Activities that he and local fitness professionals recommend include taking walks (at the mall if the weather is bad), hiking, going to the playground, swimming, basketball, ice- or roller-skating, in-line skating, soccer, cross-country skiing, biking, rowing, dancing, skipping and jumping rope.

When it comes to duration and age limits for physical activities, Dr. Teitelbaum says he’s reluctant to give guidelines because it may put too much time pressure on families and ultimately take the fun out of the activity.

“Do 10 minutes if that’s all you can fit it. But I guess if you absolutely have to have a number, I would say 30 to 45 minutes a day,” he says. “And you’re never too young to get started.”

Rose Kennedy, co-author of “The Family Fitness Fun Book: Good, Healthy Fun for the Whole Family,” is well-acquainted with the concept of keeping the “fun” in fitness. The book, which is expected to arrive in stores in early 2004, provides hundreds of ideas for physical activities and games that involve the entire family.

“It’s not like you want to trick anyone, but you also don’t want kids to think that exercising is a chore,” Ms. Kennedy says. “You want to make the activity so much fun that they don’t think, ‘This is so good for me and that’s why I have to do it.’”

Parent involvement in the activities and games that she suggests in the book is essential, she says. Not only does it give parents a chance to get some exercise, it also provides children with an opportunity to spend active leisure time with a parent.

Ms. Kennedy’s games and activities take from 5 minutes to several hours and require varying degrees of skill and fitness levels.

Health clubs and gyms started including classes a few years ago that encourage parents and children to exercise together, says Linda Blake, spokeswoman for the YMCA in Alexandria.

“We have a swim class for children ages 6 months to 3 years that’s very popular,” Mrs. Blake says. “And we see a lot of kids with their parents on the basketball court and in the gym, lifting weights.”

Young children go through a fitness assessment with a YMCA employee before being allowed into the weight room. The general guideline is that children have to be 14 years old and accompanied by an adult to use the weights, she says.

Lindsay Smith, 13, her sister Erin, 11, and their mother, Mary Jane, are regulars at the Alexandria YMCA.

“We love to go as a family when our schedules permit, even if we don’t spend the entire time exercising together,” Mrs. Smith says.

Erin might go for a swim while Lindsay and her mother go to the weight room. At the end of their workouts, the girls like to review exactly what they have accomplished - how many laps they have swum or hoops they have shot.

“It’s kind of fun that way. Working out definitely gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Mrs. Smith says, “but the best part is we just enjoy hanging out together.”

Exercising with the entire family is as much about the instant benefits of being together, having fun, burning a few calories and building muscle as it is about encouraging good habits in one’s children, say parents and fitness and health care professionals.

“Kids model what they see adults doing,” Mrs. Blake says. “When you start healthy habits at a young age, they often become part of your life.”

Mrs. Daley-Harris, who goes for solo runs of six to eight miles a couple of times a week, says that’s one of her main reasons for wanting the entire family to exercise together.

“The thing that concerned me when we weren’t exercising together was that my son didn’t get a good example of physical activity,” she says. “He didn’t have a good role model.”

Gretchen Mikeska, also a Southeast resident, says she’s about to introduce skiing into her 21-month-old daughter Iris’ physical activity repertoire.

“She’s getting skis for Christmas,” Ms. Mikeska says.

By introducing Iris at a young age to different types of physical activity, from swimming to skiing, Ms. Mikeska, a single mother, says she hopes to make exercise as natural to her daughter as any everyday activity.

“Hopefully, it will also encourage her to have an appreciation for the outdoors,” she says.

Iris has accompanied her mother on runs and walks in a jogger stroller several times a week since she was 2 months old.

Other important pillars in a healthy lifestyle include getting enough sleep, which stimulates the body’s growth hormones, and eating right, Dr. Teitelbaum says.

“The first thing to do is cut back on the sugar,” he says, “and that goes for both parents and children.”

One of the biggest sugar culprits is soda, says Claudia Morrison, a registered dietitian at the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.

“Parents often tell me they don’t want to deprive their children,” Mrs. Morrison says, “but it’s not about that. It’s simply setting high standards and forming good habits.”

Drink water instead of sodas, she says. The adult guideline is eight 8-ounce glasses of water (64 ounces) a day. The guideline for children is four to six 8-ounce glasses of water (32 to 48 ounces) a day, she says.

Another healthy food pointer Mrs. Morrison gives her patients is to make sure healthy food and snacks, such as low-fat yogurt, pudding and cheese - as opposed to potato chips and chocolate chip cookies - are available in the house.

“You have to make it easy for you and your kids to stay healthy,” she says.

She says the food industry is starting to respond to customers’ requests for easy, healthy foods, such as diced fresh vegetables.

While New Year’s Day is a favorite time for many Americans to make resolutions about getting in shape and shedding a certain number of pounds, Ms. Kennedy cautions against making a big deal about when you start and what you do in terms of physical activity.

“Don’t wait until the planets are aligned,” she says. “Just start with something active, something that will get you moving even if it’s just for 10 minutes. The most important thing is making it a habit.”

More info:

Books [-]

* “The Family Fitness Fun Book: Good, Healthy Fun for the Whole Family,” edited by Lori Baird and written by Rose Kennedy and Myrsini Stephanides, Hatherleigh Press, 2004. This book features ideas for fun activities, games and outdoor adventures for every level of fitness, every season and almost any interest. Go on a nature hike, have a Hula-Hoop contest or learn how to cross-country ski. The book includes hundreds of ideas for families with children ages 6 to 13, health and nutrition tips, and a fitness journal to chart your family’s progress.

* “365 Activities for Fitness, Food, and Fun for the Whole Family,” by Julia E. Sweet and Michael Jacobson, McGraw-Hill Cos., 2001. This book features activities, healthful recipes and games designed to be fun and rewarding for the whole family. It focuses on strengthening family bonds and improving everyone’s health.

* “30 Days to a Healthier Family,” by Peggy Hughes, Deseret Books, 2003. This book is intended to get families started on a road toward physical well-being. Along with tips for exercises, it provides healthy recipes and snack ideas as well as other advice for healthy living for the whole family.

* “Fit and Fun for Life,” by Liz Caldwell and Barry Siff, VeloPress, 2003. This book provides information on a variety of workouts, from everyday chores such as washing the car, gardening, walking the dog and cleaning the house to planned activities such as hiking, bike riding, swimming, playing volleyball, or taking yoga classes. Suggested activities emphasize endurance, strength and flexibility and can be done with the whole family.

Associations [-]

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. Phone: 800/311-3435. Web site: www.cdc.gov. The United States’ leading federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people provides statistics and information on why physical activity is important for adults and children. It also gives examples of what children and parents can do in terms of everyday activity to stay healthy. It emphasizes that children whose parents and siblings are active are more likely to be active themselves.

Online [-]

* The American Academy of Family Physicians hosts www.familydoctor.org, a Web site that provides guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for children and their parents. It recommends some kind of aerobic exercise two or three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time for children. It suggests the following activities: swimming, basketball, ice or roller hockey, jogging (or walking quickly), in-line skating, soccer, cross-country skiing, biking and rowing. Even dancing, skipping, jumping rope and playing hopscotch are aerobic activities.

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