January brings new resolutions for most. Often based on making healthier lifestyle choices. It’s hard to argue with making a fresh start after a holiday season of eating, eating, and more eating. While I’ve never been one to set specific resolutions, I do tend to reevaluate my goals around this time and try to think about what I can do to improve my well-being. And I have to admit, getting back into my regular exercise routine tends to make the list year after year.
While I don’t like to set myself up for failure by creating lofty resolutions that most likely won’t be met (a year is a long time), I like the idea of a clean slate. Forget the litany of excuses that kept me from jumping on that elliptical each day, it’s time to start anew. What I don’t care for is the never-ending list of magazine articles promising to get me bikini ready in two weeks or to lose 10 pounds in four weeks. To me, this defeats the purpose of the fresh start. What good is starting over if it means creating impossible goals that will most likely increase your stress level?
There is a lot of talk about weight loss and how much exercise is necessary to lose weight and to maintain a healthy weight. I have to agree that, in general, it’s important to educate people about healthy living. Childhood obesity rates continue to climb, thereby increasing the rates of Type 2 Diabetes in children. Whether it’s lack of information or inability to put healthy living first due to a recessed economy, people are struggling to stay healthy.
We were in a bit of funk around here for a few weeks. Upon our return from a trip to Connecticut, where it was too cold to play outside, it rained for nearly two straight weeks in Los Angeles. Then the revolving door of illness started and, before I knew it, we were living a rather sedentary lifestyle.
We are spoiled out here. “Cold” means temperatures in the mid-50’s, so we can get out and enjoy some fresh air almost daily (but before you get too jealous, we do have to hide indoors in the AC for a good portion of the summer). We love to walk around our little town, making big adventures out of almost nothing. A trip to see the fire trucks on Main Street becomes a “rescue” mission. A walk to look for fallen leaves in Library Park is a “nature hike”. We wander around, getting our exercise and using our imaginations. The kids are happy and relaxed during these walks. Everybody smiles.
I see the benefits of exercise firsthand as we walk/run around town crafting stories and visiting our favorite spots. They return home happy, calm (well, most of the time), and ready to rest. People joke with me along the way, “are you wearing them out or are they wearing you out!” I always smile and laugh along with them. It wasn’t until recently that I stopped to think that it doesn’t matter who returns to the nest worn out (I think it’s probably me more often than not), what really matters to me is that they are happy and having fun.
When we were in the middle of the vortex consisting of cold, rain, and illness, my little munchkins were not so happy. They were pale, cranky, and begging for TV. Their smiles were saved for only the funniest moments, and for their daddy. I came up with project after project to keep them engaged (incidentally, treasure hunt was the big winner), but they just weren’t themselves. I was watching, firsthand, what it means for kids to have little to no exercise. It was heartbreaking.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) list the following as the benefits of regular exercise for children: Controlling weight, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of diabetes, raising HDL (also known as “good” cholesterol), and promoting mental health. It’s a long list. They are all reason enough to put exercise (and we’re not talking about organized sports, just moving their bodies) at the top of the priority list. But it bothers me that promoting mental health sits last on the list.
Clearly I’m biased. I’ve worked as a child and adolescent psychotherapist for many years, so I tend to think in terms of emotional well-being. To me, exercise is good for the soul. You hear people reference the natural endorphins released during exercise, and how those endorphins help to energize the body and the mind. I notice as my girlfriends break out of a funk when they start prioritizing that weekly spinning or yoga class. A few days back on the elliptical and I’m already feeling more energized and a lot less anxious. Clearly exercise is good for the soul. So why does “promoting mental health” always seem to rate last on the list?
Riley (4) recently asked me why I exercise. It was the perfect opportunity to teach her an important lesson in healthy living. I shared with her that I feel energized when I exercise, that I sleep better, and that my body stays healthier. She took it in and thought about it for a while. The following morning as she sprinted up the street she looked back at me and yelled, “Mommy! It’s true! My body has so much energy now!” I’m smart enough to know that preschoolers like to repeat what they’ve heard and to please other people, but the important thing is that she took something from it. Exercise = energy. Running free, looking for cool stones and pretty leaves, rescue missions, and treasure hunts all add up to exercise for children. They also add up to happy children. Happy children want to get out more to exercise their bodies and, more importantly, their souls.
It is usually recommended that children ages two and over get 30-60 minutes of guided exercise per day. This doesn’t necessarily mean over-priced classes or organized sports. Follow the leader, duck duck goose, scooters, trikes, bikes, plasma cars, etc. all provide exercise for your kids. And don’t forget all of the jumping, spinning, and dancing around they engage in just because it’s fun.
Now that we’ve all returned to good health we’ve resumed our normal adventure walks in the morning and afternoons outside in the backyard. Liam has me working on my hula-hoop skills (I’m really improving) and Riley leads us all over the place with follow the leader. Their smiles are back and they can’t wait to get out and play (so much so that Liam was putting his shoes on at 6:45am today). I’m pleased to report that their happy little souls are once again in tact. As is mine. Exercise. It’s good for the soul.
Whatever your healthy living resolution this year, I say throw away the magazines and just get out there and exercise your soul. The rest will come when you’re too busy enjoying your life to notice.
What kinds of family activities keep you and your kids happy, healthy, and energized?
She has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/ and can also be found on Twitter @practicalmom