Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle with your family doesn’t have to be a struggle. There are many fun ways to encourage healthy habits in your children and make physical activity a bonding experience for the whole family.
There are a few habits, routines and daily activities that healthy families engage in on a regular basis. Staying healthy doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money. Here are six secrets of healthy families, which anyone with kids can adopt or practice:
- Healthy families are active together
It’s important for families to exercise and stay active together. Kids who are around adults who engage in physical activity are more likely to see being active as part of their daily routine, not something they do every once in awhile.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children ages 6 to 17 need at least one hour of aerobic exercise daily. Kids in this age range also need to engage in muscle and bone-strengthening activities three days per week.
In the U.S., only 21.6 percent of kids are actually meeting these standards of daily activity. Physical activity decreases a child’s risk of obesity and developing Type 2 diabetes. These are just some of the reasons why it’s important that kids get enough exercise. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by staying active as a family, which helps parents stay healthy as well.
- Kids in healthy families stay active outside of gym class and team sports
Some parents might think that recess, gym class or soccer practice is enough physical activity for their kids on a daily basis. However, kids in healthy families often participate in physical activities far more often than this, whether it be after school or on the weekends. Studies have shown that by high school, only 52 percent of students attend gym class in a typical week.
Healthy families foster a sense of play and enjoyment when doing physical activities with their kids. Staying active as a family doesn’t have to involve complicated exercise routines. Along with structured activities like organized sports, kids also benefit from free play, which is linked to healthy physical and cognitive development in children.
- Healthy families make exercise a priority
If your children need at least one hour of exercise every day, parents need to make scheduling these physical activities a priority. For families with children in different age groups, try arranging an activity everyone can do together. Or, split up the parenting duties and have one parent take the younger children to the playground, while the other parents takes the older children to do another activity, like biking, hiking or going to a rock climbing gym. Outside activities always make working out feel more like playtime and less like exercise.
- Parents and children work out together, not separately
One of the markers of a healthy family is parents who exercise with their children, not by themselves. Children who see their parents working out often want to join in and emulate their parents’ behaviors.
A 2014 study that looked at British families found that mothers who are physically active are more likely to have a kid who is also active. One way to exercise with your children is to sign up for a community activity, like a 5k run, a bicycle race or an obstacle course. Not only do these activities make it easy for families to be active together, it also shows kids that exercise can be a rewarding activity that benefits a charitable cause.
- Healthy families eat meals together and ‘unplug’ at the dinner table
One habit of healthy families is that they cook meals together and put down their phones during mealtimes — and this includes parents. Having a “no screens” policy during mealtimes allows everyone to pay more attention to what they’re eating and bond as a family.
Research has shown that children who watch more than two hours of television every day are more likely to be overweight or obese as they get older. Limiting screen time encourages kids to turn off the iPad and go outside and play instead. Cooking meals together also teaches kids about healthy eating and how to prepare their own food, which will go a long way in helping them maintain a balanced diet into adulthood.
- Healthy families don’t scrimp on sleep
For children of all ages, getting enough sleep in crucial. Well-rested children have more energy and perform better in school. The guidelines for sleep depend on the age of the child. Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep per night; preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours; and school-age kids need about 9 to 11 hours night.
To ensure that kids get enough sleep, parents should establish firm bedtimes and stick to a regular nighttime and early morning routine. Kids might want to stay up late, but it’s far better for their health for them to get a good night’s sleep on a daily basis.