Making exercise and movement a “Family Affair”
I have never seen my parents work out in a gym. I mean not once in my lifetime. As a family, most of our movement together would come in the form of walking whether it was a day trip to Canada’s Wonderland, the CNE, or Dixie Value Mall on the Saturdays of my childhood. Even though they didn’t know it at the time, my parents had taught us the value of movement. Walking as a family in all those settings is still a valued treasure of my childhood that I hold on to this day.
With that said, and as much as I enjoy walking, my true love is the gym. All of the equipment, free weights, fancy universal weights that had plates that clanged once you finished your set; rows upon rows of treadmills, ellipticals, and rowing machines were just beautiful to me. From those days till now, working out at a gym has never been a task, it has been pure joy. Over time I have really incorporated many different activities into my training regimen, yet walking and the gym remain the staples.
As older Z and younger Z were born, it was clear that it would be some time before I could share the love of the gym with them, so exercise and movement would have to come in different ways. It was still very important for me to teach the value of exercise and fitness at a young age. Instead of the gym, they were enrolled in activities such as swimming, kickboxing, soccer, and basketball. We tried to make sure they had a wide variety of activities to make exercise and movement fun and enjoyable
In participating in all of these activities, a few key realizations have dawned upon me as older Z and younger Z have matured. It is vital when children participate in these activities that they feel like the activity is not a task that is grueling or a bore if they are to develop the habit of movement and exercise.
Even more important has been that when I have made exercise a family affair where I have participated right beside them, exercise has been an activity that has strengthened our family bond.
A few years ago when older Z was in elementary school, her school was enrolled in a fun run 10K where students at the school would form a team and where parents were encouraged to run with their child as part of a relay. Older Z and I would run 5km together. This would be the first time that I would be running alongside my child. I ran half marathons in my 20s and early 30s. This was different however and I could see that getting ready for the race that older Z was motivated. She asked me to train and we would set modest goals of 2 kilometers and start by jogging for 2 minutes and then walking for 2 minutes and try to stretch out our running before we would slow down for a walk. I noticed quickly that older Z was motivated to at least ask me a couple of times a week to get ready for the run. The kids at school were excited for the big day which would be happening in a couple of weeks and everyone was running and preparing.
The day of the run arrived and we were ready to go. We met the school team which was full of excited 5th graders including older Z. I could see the nervous excitement on the faces of the kids as they were ready to run. I realized that these kids had enjoyed the prep that they did both at school with the running club as well as on their own, often with their family like older Z and I had.
As the horn blasted and the thousand or so runners lined up at the start, I had butterflies in my stomach and realized that this journey that I had taken with older Z had taught her many important lessons: The value of movement. Preparing and working towards a goal. As well as spending time with her Dad and working together.
We would run the 5K together and were aiming to run in about 35 minutes which was ambitious. My plan would be to run about 1000 meters or 1 km and then take our first walking break. I would run at a pace that was challenging for both of us. Older Z started off well and she kept pace with me, stride for stride. By the 1000-meter mark, I could see it was time for the rest break.
“Dad, you are keeping a good pace, let’s keep going!”
By kilometer 3, she was starting to tire a little bit and was hitting the “runner’s wall”. I could see that a Gatorade and selfie break was in order. I told her that we should take a picture as a memory and that we would have big smiles on our faces even though there was a little stitch on the side of both of our bodies.
As we ran the second half of the race, we kept a slow and steady pace. As we reached the 5 km mark, we saw the other students, as well as teachers and parents waiting for us to tag them in to run the second half of the race. We finished our 5km in roughly 38 minutes. We didn’t quite reach the time we were aiming for but were still happy nonetheless.
The entire team of racers met at the finish line and happy faces and smiles were awarded their finisher medals. I was very grateful that the running club at older Z’s school had entered the race. I was even happier that we trained together and then ran the race side by side. As much as I loved lifting heavy in the gym, this was even better.
These days between older Z’s Volleyball practices and younger Z’s practices, we still move together in some shape or form. We still run together (although often interspersed with walking breaks) and now that we have a family membership at the local fitness center we race on adjacent treadmills, followed by dips in the pool. Exercise continues to be a family affair that we share together that keeps us moving as well as keeps our bonds tight.
You don’t need a health club membership to include movement in your life. You could be like my parents thirty years ago and take your kids walking in the park or city. You could complete a youtube fitness video together. You can have a dance party. Or you can train for your very own 5K fun run. Remember though if they see you move, your kids will want to move with you.
Making movement a family affair will help strengthen your body, your health, and your family bonds.