School's out for summer - exercising with your children

20 July 2018

Exercising with your child ticks several boxes at once, says The Life Coach Ben Short, and the summer holidays are the perfect time to start.

If you are struggling to find time to go to the gym, have quality active time with your children, then exercising with them is the answer. Not only can you both benefit physically and emotionally from doing a joint activity together but, by acting as a role model, you can instil good habits that will last your child a lifetime.

Admittedly, trying to get your teenager to slip on lycra and join you on the running track is a big ask. So, start being active with them when they are young. That way, by the time they hit the age when they feel embarrassed just being in the same room as you, they should at least have a healthy passion for exercise.

From the beginning

There is a new species to be found in our Surrey parks – the exercising post-natal mum. Using their buggies as part of the workout, these ladies are proof that you can get fit and healthy without having to invest in childcare.  And they’re great role models for their babies and toddlers who can see their smiling faces during the exercise. There are several buggy fit clubs across the county which often have follow-on indoor classes where mum and toddler can exercise together.  

Child’s play

A playground is a ready-made gym for your young child but don’t just watch from the park bench.  Offer to be at the other end of the seesaw – great for toning leg muscles - or demonstrate how to use the monkey bars and give your arms and chest a workout.

Mark out a small circuit in your local park or open space with jumpers or water bottles or anything to hand, and challenge your children to see how fast you and they can run between each. Or create an obstacle course using overlapping branches and tree stumps. In your garden, encourage your children to create their own obstacle course with household items. You and they could be tackling a slalom course made from soft toys or army crawling under a blanket or running through the garden sprinkler.

Present for garden

Buy a present for your garden this summer to entice children away from the TV or computer –Swingball, a basketball hoop or a badminton net are family favourites.

Instil good habits

Young children naturally run around when they are outdoors so they don’t need a structured warm up, but it’s a good routine to get them in to. Do a mini warm up before tackling that obstacle course. Make up silly names for warm up exercises or pretend to run on `hot potatoes’. Before swimming, encourage them to do shoulder rolls and mimic swimming strokes in the air. And, of course, make sure you each have your own water bottle and encourage them to take frequent sips throughout the activity.

Pacing

The most important thing in encouraging children to be more active with you is that they have fun. If all they remember is how tired they felt, they might not want to do that activity again. Teach them how to pace themselves by sprinting together to one marker and walking fast to another. Keep an eye out for them becoming over exerted and instigate a water break – young children don’t know when they are overdoing it, but this could lead to injury. And avoid an activity if your child is very tired or not feeling well.

Did you know?... parents can run alongside their child in the junior parkruns which take place across Surrey. Equally, if your child is progressing well and really enjoying the sport, they can join you in the adult parkruns. Check with the parkrun run director first.

Ben is an Exercise Physiologist and Health Advisor at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital, Personal Trainer, and Head Coach for Horley Harriers Running Club.

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