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Family Fitness Fun

We’ve all heard about the alarming rise in obesity in this country, but more widespread is the epidemic of couch-potatoitis that affects even those who aren’t overweight. Americans have become increasingly sedentary, spending their free time on things that involve no physical activity: video games, movies and TV, the Internet.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity a day for adults and 60 for kids. But you don’t have to put your family members on a strict fitness regimen to boost their exercise quotient. Here are seven fun ways to get everyone up and moving.

  1. Step it up.
    Start a campaign to see which family member can take the most steps per day. The recommended number for adults is 10,000, but kids should do twice that amount. Buy everyone a pedometer (you can get them for under $10) and a small notepad to record where they walk and how many steps it took. Compare notes at dinner. You can hold contests or make a guessing game out of it: How many steps does it take to get from the kitchen to the laundry room and back?
  2. Play games.
    The next time you have a family game night, leave Monopoly on the shelf and grab Twister instead. Games don’t have to be sit-down affairs. Go for a round of Wii boxing or play a machine-dance game.
  3. Be a citizen scientist.
    Ever go out and record the colors of courting pigeons in your area? Or count the number of squirrels in your neighborhood? Through citizen science programs, your family members can become untrained “researchers” for a number of ongoing science studies, many of which involve outdoor activity. Visit the Science for Citizens website to see which programs are looking for volunteers.
  4. Do the moonwalk.
    Strolling around the neighborhood during the day is nothing special. Do it at night, and it’s an adventure. After dinner, grab a flashlight and hit the pavement for 30 minutes of walking, talking and stargazing. Be sure to return at least an hour before bedtime or nobody will be able to fall asleep!
  5. Get handy.
    Find a big project that everyone can participate in. Build a tree house, cut and haul firewood, paint a room, restore a piece of furniture. All that activity -- sawing, hammering, scraping, sanding -- is good exercise. Just don’t call it work.
  6. Play tourist.
    See your hometown or nearby city like a visitor would: Take a guided walking tour, visit the zoo, play in the park or go on a hike. Being a tourist always involves walking and physical activity, but it doesn’t have to include travel.
  7. Create an obstacle course.
    Making an obstacle course indoors or out with household items provides two workouts in one: First, you run around snatching up materials (cushions, shoes, sports equipment, garden tools, etc.), and then you run around the course. Your kids will be too busy laughing to realize how much exercise they’re getting … which is what family fitness should be about.

Help Your Kids Manage Stress

If you think your kids can’t pick up on your stress, think again. The 2010 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association shows that nine out of 10 children ages 8 to 17 can tell when their parents are upset. Yet more than two-thirds of parents think their stress has little or no impact on their kids. That disconnect means more kids are living with stress -- without learning how to manage it.

“Children say they know when their parents are stressed because they yell more, argue with other people in the household, and complain,” says Dr. Mary Alvord, a family psychologist who contributed to the survey. While you may not be able to remove the cause of stress, you can reduce its negative effects on your kids by taking these 5 simple steps:

1. Be open and honest.
Tell your kids what’s happening and why you are anxious -- whether it’s money problems, job insecurity, or illness in the family. “Often kids overhear or pick up on things. If it isn’t discussed, it’s left to their imaginations,” says Alvord. Just make sure you discuss it at a level they can understand.

2. Present a plan of action.
You don’t need to come up with a solution, only a next step. Tell your kids that you’re looking for a better job, or that you’ll work together as a family to cut down on expenses. If Grandma is too sick for them to visit, tell them you’ll bring their get-better letters and drawings when you go to the hospital.

3. Identify your most stressful time.
If you get particularly tense in the morning while you’re trying to get everyone out of the house, or in the evening, when you’re trying to get dinner ready after a long day, take steps to make those times less anxiety-producing. Cook and freeze meals in advance, have your spouse handle the morning rush, or get more things ready the night before. It’s easier to manage stress when you know when you’re must vulnerable to it.

4. Welcome other people.
No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s always easier to handle setbacks with the support of others. The same goes for kids too. So bring people into your lives instead of shutting them out when times are tough. Socializing and talking to others helps diffuse anxious feelings. It’s important for kids to know that they aren’t alone.

5. Plan for fun too.
If you want to reduce your family stress, shift the focus from problems to pleasure. Start a regular movie night, go out for ice cream on a school night, or plan a short road trip. By taking action, you show your kids that there are positive steps and choices they can make that will replace feelings of stress with feelings of happiness.

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