Teaching Kids Fitness Habits

How to Model a Fit Lifestyle for Your Kids

I used to joke that the only thing that would make me run was a grizzly bear chasing me. Although I was always in okay shape| I never thought much about the impact of my decisions on my long-term health. Food was something grabbed quickly| washed down with far too many caffienated or sugary drinks.

Sure| I had a gym membership and tried every fitness fad going (you name| I tried it. I still own a Step that's gathering dust in the basement)| but nothing really motivated me. It was always back to the same routine... work out hard and eat right for about six months| then give it all up after one wine and munchies girl's night out too many.

Four years ago| I stopped this pattern when I found my fitness passion... cycling. And it wasn't a moment too soon.

Although I'd only been peddling every moment I could for about three months before I found out I was pregnant| I was hooked on the feeling that a good| long ride could give me. I had more energy than I ever had before and choosing healthy foods was a no-brainer (if only to keep the tight booty that came courtesy of an hour a day on my bike!). I also knew that passing on my passion for fitness would be one of the best gifts I could ever give my daughter.

Our culture cultivates unhealthy lifestyles. We're encouraged to drive everywhere| and gym class and recess in schools is akin to the dodo bird in many provinces. Even the advertising for sugary| fattening food is aimed directly at our kids. The bad news? Childhood obesity rates are rising and we're seeing more and more adult-onset illnesses in children. The good news? Starting in your own home| you can change that pattern.

The best way to encourage a behaviour is to model a behaviour. Good or bad| children learn though imitation. From day one| you can start modeling a healthy lifestyle by including your children in your workout routine.

There are tons of classes that incorporate babies into the routine. If you can't find a class| start your own walking or running group with other moms in your neighbourhood. It's a great way to gossip| work out and show your kids that being active is fun.

Non-stop movement comes naturally to most toddlers and preschoolers. A good run around the park can certainly leave most parents exhausted| but it's important. Running and playing with your active little darlings not only shows you value what they're doing and enjoy time with them| it's also sneaking in a workout for you.

Of course| simply running around the park won't cut it for most moms| and we all crave a little "me time" now and then. If you were a gym-bunny pre-parenthood| don't complain you don't have time now. Make time - even if it means finding another like-minded parent in your neighbourhood and trading time at the gym. Or join a community sports league... if you used to love a particular sport| chances are you still will. Carving out a little sanity saving time isn't selfish and| trust me - your children will appreciate the fact you come home less frazzled and more relaxed.

It's true that some of us find it hard to compromise spending time with our kids with spending time by ourselves. If that's the case| find a sport or activity that your child is passionate about and make it a family affair. Growing up| I knew a family that took up karate together. While enrolling their children| the parents decided to give it a try themselves. It soon became a family activity and| up until their children left home| they would practice together in their backyard. While it doesn't have to be that formal| heading outside for a game of catch or going to the local rink to enjoy a family skate is a positive step towards modeling a healthy lifestyle.

As for me| I spent my daughter's first year walking everywhere I could with her. We covered what feels like thousands of kilometres in our neighbourhood when it was sunny| or at the mall when it was rainy. The minute her pediatrician gave the go-ahead for her to ride with me| I installed a bike seat and bought her a helmet. While I still get my "me time" workout five days a week (commuting to work each morning and to her daycare each evening)| there's nothing I love more than to strap her into her seat| put my feet on the pedals and hit the road.

My hope is that through my actions| I'm encouraging her to find her fitness passion far sooner than I stumbled on mine.

Tawnya Zwicker is the working mom of an energetic three year old girl and 39 year old husband who thinks he's three. When not daydreaming about the yellow jersey on the Tour de France, she battles downtown Toronto traffic and the temptation of one too many wine and munchies girl's nights out.