Kathleen Hermann talks about ways for families to engage in fun fitness activities during the holiday season.
We all have holiday traditions, from Aunt Linda’s green bean casserole to fireside carols to the annual donning of the matching sweaters.
However, a lot of our traditions around the holidays focus on heavy, fat-laden foods. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Traditions are important, and the holidays are a good time to indulge as long as we do not indulge to excess.
Still, it is a good time to assess whether your family has any healthy holiday traditions, namely involving physical activity. If not, then why not consider starting one?
Growing up, we watched my father every Thanksgiving morning amble through a Turkey Trot 5k. A former college basketball star measuring 6’8″ in height, he was by no means a runner and it was often humorous to watch him lurching down the final stretch. Nevertheless, he loved how running that race (which was, in fact, the only race he ever ran each year) made him feel on Thanksgiving Day.
As soon as we were old enough, us kids joined him, engaging in a friendly competiton with eachother for place and time. There was something special about knowing no matter the weather — and we had our share of unseasonably warm days as well as days with a foot of snow — we knew where we would be Thanksgiving morning. After an endorphin high of running a race like a Turkey Trot in a huge crowd of like-minded runners, the rest of the day was gravy (pun intended).
There are, in fact, many different ideas for holiday traditions involving fitness, with new opportunities forming each year. It’s not important what you do as long as you do your best to mix the holiday, family and friends (or even pets) with fitness. Here are some ideas for healthy traditions you may not yet have tried:
1. Run a Holiday Race
Did you know that the first “Turkey Trot” was started in Buffalo during Thanksgiving of 1896? Back then it had only six runners, but today that same Buffalo race regularly has over 10,000 participants. Now there are Turkey Trots and Jingle Runs all over the country, of differing lengths and terrains. The feeling of having accomplished something will make the food taste that much better.
2. Backyard Touch Football
This is a fun, special tradition that many families have already incorporated into their holidays for generations. Instead of sitting on the couch in a food-induced coma, head out for your own friendly-family or neighborhood competition. Children especially will cherish watching adults take part in a fun family game with them.
3. Take a Holiday Walk
There’s no sweeter image to me on holidays than when I see entire generations of a family out walking down the road in a big pack. The sight of an elderly grandmother pushing a stroller, uncles and aunts engaging in jesting banter, and mixed-age children running ahead just seems to be one of the best ways to unite as a family. Even if it is only you and your dog celebrating this year, take a special walk -perhaps on a nature trail- and enjoy the time to reflect on the holiday and giving thanks.
4. Engage in a Seasonal Activity The holidays are a great time to let your inner child run free. Whether there are young ones with you or not, there’s no reason you can’t go tobogganing, ice skating, or build a large snowman. If you live in a warmer climate, look for indoor ice rinks that offer open skating for the public. All of these activities will have you sweating off enough calories for that pumpkin pie you ate.
Holiday traditions don’t have to be focused only on sugar cookies and stuffing. Embrace a tradition involving physical activity and your holiday will combat stress, lift your mood, and make the time richer and brighter. More importantly, you may not end the holiday season five pounds heavier and feeling like a sloth. It is never too late to start a new tradition!
Does your family have a healthy holiday tradition or story?
Summer is often a time to relax and rejuvenate, but it can also feel just as hectic as the rest of the year. Between trips to the pool, sports games and camps, celebrations, vacations, school programs, and regular work, our daily schedules are about as unpredictable as they can be.
This unpredictability can present a challenge at meal time. It’s often easier to grab food on the road or rely on processed/packaged foods than it is to prepare healthy food at home. However, we can make healthy meals part of our summer experience without getting in the way of the fun.
Here are three easy ways to get the most nutritional benefit out of your summer meals.
1. Get Fresh
In-season fruits and vegetables are your biggest nutrition allies during the summer months. Fresh produce is not only packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, but most varieties also taste best at this time of year, which means that you don’t have to dress them up with a lot of extras!
Look for ways to use fruits and vegetables in snacks/appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, and season foods with fresh spices to add flavor without adding calories.
You can also give yourself an extra activity boost by growing and harvesting these foods from your own garden, or walk or bike to your local Farmers’ Market and pick out a variety of fresh produce each week.
2. Take it Outside
Take advantage of nice weather to prepare your food on the grill. Grilling can be one of the quickest ways to prepare meals (you can even grill ahead of time and save food for later in the week), and it’s also a very healthy cooking method when you use proper techniques.
According to eatingwell.com, cooking meats at the high temperatures used when grilling, broiling, and frying creates compounds that are linked to some cancers. That said, there is no evidence that grilling causes cancer, and there are steps you can take to prevent the formation of these chemicals.
Make sure to keep your grill clean, trim excess fats from foods, and use marinades and rubs to act as a protective barrier against the high heat while adding some extra flavor.
Additionally, cook meat and fish to the right temperature while avoiding excessive charring. Food safety guidelines indicate that poultry should be heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground red meat and pork to 160, and red meat steaks or chops and fish to 145.
3. Drink up
Traditional summer beverages including lemonade, smoothies, soda, beer, and other sugary alcoholic beverages can add a lot of extra calories and not much nutritional value to your meal (see our post on 5 Steps to a Healthy Margarita to learn how to make your favorite beverages healthier).
First and foremost, the beverage accompanying your meal should help keep you hydrated during warm weather. Your best options limit extra sugar and avoid the diuretic effects of alcohol and excessive caffeine.
Healthy examples of refreshing summer beverages include ice water, sparkling water, or unsweetened iced tea with lemon or lime. Low-fat milk, fruit spritzers (or watered down juices), and homemade, no-sugar added smoothies can also be great options.
Summer meals can be healthy, delicious, and easy and fun to prepare. Not only will you feel the added satisfaction of growing and/or preparing fresh foods, but your body will also thank you for limiting your intake of processed items.
Here’s one more bonus tip – take advantage of opportunities to slow down and create a more relaxed atmosphere during meal times. It might be tough in the midst of a busy schedule of activities, but taking your time will prevent overeating and help you enjoy the full flavor of the season.
What are some of your favorite, healthy summer recipes?
Full disclosure: I had no intention of registering my four-year-old twins for Midtown’s new Tennis Explorers program.
I love them to pieces, but these two are “spirited” on their best days and the definition of chaos and mayhem on their worst. And, like many preschoolers, they are very active, very boisterous, and have very short attention spans.
Twinsanity and tennis? Like oil and water, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong.
We’re nearing the completion of our first 10-week, parent-and-child session, and my twins not only love the game, but have also mastered skills I never thought they would stand still enough to learn.
A Different Approach
Tennis Explorers is unique because the emphasis is on fun, movement, and cultural awareness. Midtown created the program with childhood development professionals, so literacy, counting, and social skills are also incorporated with each lesson.
The kids spend the first 5 minutes of each lesson in a “circle time” atmosphere on-court, listening to their tennis coach read them a story about a different country from their Tennis Explorers book. They learn how to say, “Hello” in the language of that country, which was a huge hit with my kids. They’re stilling saying, “Jambo” to people they meet, three weeks after learning about Kenya.
Fun is the Focus
Rest assured that your 3-year-old won’t be whacking around a regulation tennis ball with abandon. Tennis Explorers uses large, easy-to-hit foam balls, and in class, they aren’t even called tennis balls. They are “turtles” for one drill (kids practice hand-eye coordination skills by using the strings of their racquet-the turtle’s “shell”-to stop a rolling ball-the turtle’s body) and a “kangaroo” that needs to find its way into its mother’s “pouch” (a cone) for another.
Outside of the story, the class is kept in constant motion, which is a perfect format for active preschoolers. They work on balance, coordination, both large and small motor skills, and the proper way to hold and swing the most adorable, age-appropriate racquet you’ve ever seen. The racquet was designed especially for Midtown by Wilson and each Tennis Explorer receives one, along with these backpacks.
My kids’ tennis coach flawlessly integrates parent participation with each lesson, as we’re asked to toss the kids balls to hit, or even participate in a balance drill along with our children. Parents aren’t usually able to participate in softball, or soccer, or hockey right alongside their kids, so my husband and I are happy to have the opportunity to join our twins on-court in their first foray into sports.
It took just a single class to hook my kids on the game. By the end of the first lesson, my sometimes surly son was jumping up and down shouting, “I LOVE tennis!” He was even more excited to get his first sticker in his “Passport,” the small green book where kids collect a sticker upon completion of each lesson.
All four of us are looking forward to the next session, which begins next week.
While there are child-only classes on the schedule, where kids work with a pro sans parents as they do in other levels of tennis, I would encourage you to take the class with your kids, or have another caregiver take it with them, at least for the first time around. First, the class was designed this way, but more importantly it offers you a guaranteed 45 minutes of uninterrupted time each week to spend with your preschooler.
And with the fast pace of most of our lives, that kind of time is invaluable.
Has your child taken our inaugural session of Tennis Explorers? Please share what you thought of the program in our Comments section.
If you spent the weeks leading up to the summer season getting “swimsuit-ready” only to realize that mid-way through the summer, you’ve put on a few pounds, you’re not alone. Experts agree that summer weight gain is common among both adults and children.
Check out some easy ways to avoid the pitfalls, so you can stay healthy, fit, and ready to put on those skinny jeans this fall.
1. Plan Meals and Snacks.
Summer’s laid-back feel and variable schedule can derail your motivation and ability to plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. However, maintaining a healthy menu and eating schedule over the summer is key to controlling your weight.
Schedule time during your day to shop for and prepare healthy foods. This might actually help you feel less stressed, because both your mind and body will appreciate a nutritious energy boost.
Courtesy of katrinalantznovelist.blogspot.com
2. Watch What You Eat at Summer Parties.
From your son’s graduation celebration, to your cousin’s wedding, to the family backyard BBQ, summer calendars are packed with events that include an unlimited amount of fatty, sugary foods.
To avoid overindulging, focus on catching up with family and friends. Don’t overload your plate, and avoid going back for seconds and thirds. You will have more time for conversation and ready to take on the next activity!
3. Limit Summer Treats.
It’s perfectly healthy to enjoy an ice cream cone once a week, but if that cone is accompanied by a frappuccino here and a margarita there (even one made from our healthy recipe), the extra calories can add up quickly. Less obvious, or seemingly “healthier” options, such as frozen yogurt, lemonade or Gatorade, and light beer, can also lead to weight gain.
With a little willpower and planning, you can decide for yourself when it’s okay to enjoy a refreshing summer treat, and when to say, “I’ll try it next time!”
4. Maintain Your Exercise Routine.
When regular schedules are thrown out of the window, as they often are during the summer, it’s easy to let your daily trip to the gym fall by the wayside. Staying active with regular exercise will ward off extra pounds and preserve your fitness.
Summer is a great time to enjoy a wide variety of fitness activities – from the pool, tennis court, and golf course, to regular classes and exercise equipment at the gym. The bonus? You can do many of these activities with friends and family who need to exercise too!
5. Have a Goal.
Spending the hot summer months inside a cool, air-conditioned house, moving from the couch to the computer with stops at the fridge in between is a quick way to gain weight. Avoid falling into this rut by aiming for specific goals.
Combine physical goals, such as training for a summer 5K or learning a new sport, with activity-based goals, such as volunteering, working a summer job, or taking a class. Keeping goals in mind may just be the motivation you need to stay energized, healthy, and slim this season.
What strategies keep you and your family healthy over the summer?
Last week the results of a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics disproved the belief held by many parents that playing “active” video games like Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution could increase their kids’ activity levels. However, before you throw away your Wii Fit systems and go back to the drawing board, let’s take a look at the study to determine whether video game fitness really is too good to be true.
Here is a quick recap of the study:
Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX gave Wii consoles to 78 kids (ages 9-12 and above average weight).
Half the kids were given their choice of two “active” games (e.g. Wii Sports) and the other half were given their choice of two “inactive” games (e.g. Super Mario Galaxy).
Kids’ activity levels were measured for 13 weeks using an accelerometer (a motion-measuring device) worn on the belt.
Accelerometer logs showed that throughout the study period, kids with the active games didn’t get any more exercise than those given inactive video games, with both ranging between 25-29 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day.
Initial responses from researchers, doctors, and lay readers have noted the following issues with the study methods and conclusions:
Accelerometers have been shown to monitor activity accurately, however, the location of the accelerometer can impact what movement is actually recorded. For example, an accelerometer on a kid’s belt may not be able to pick up all of the motion generated by the upper body in a boxing game.
Actual game time logged was not recorded.
Other “active” game systems such as “Kinect” involve more full-body interaction than the Wii.
Fitness games aren’t interesting enough to hold a kid’s attention.
So maybe kids’ playing time just needs closer monitoring, or kids need a different game system, or to play different games. But would that really make a difference in the results? Perhaps the problem lies in the expectation that playing an active game would make a child more active.
Kids need help developing a healthy, fit lifestyle. Giving a kid a Wii remote is not going to promote a lifestyle change, and I would argue that just giving a kid a soccer ball or a pair of tap shoes won’t do it either.
Most kids need a little encouragement and coaching from family and friends to get active. Team sports, dance classes, and playtime (riding bikes, skating, playing tag, etc.) are fun activities that incorporate interactivity. Creating opportunities for interactivity with parents, siblings, and friends is one of the best ways to guarantee that kids, and families as a whole, are reaching the recommended levels of daily activity.
In other words, I wonder if a family Dance Dance Revolution tournament would be more likely to turn into a Dance Dance Marathon?
Courtesy of wii.gamezone.com
What do you think? Can video games still be part of the solution to keep kids healthy? What is the best way to encourage kids to develop a healthy lifestyle?
All parents want what’s best for their kids. They want them to be the smartest in the class, or the fastest on the team. They give them time, money, support, encouragement, and love, all to help them be the best they can be. For many families, this is especially true when it comes to fitness and sports.
But before plowing into hours of practices and training sessions with spring sports right around the corner, it’s important for parents to ask themselves, “Are my kids working out too much, or not enough?”
According to research done at the University of Michigan, exercise is key to combating the obesity epidemic, especially in a nation where 15% of all children are estimated to be overweight. However, it’s also possible to push kids so hard in organized activities and athletics that they run the risk of injury and mental/emotional fatigue.
So, how do we determine what’s really best for kids?
Existing research isn’t too much help here. Many studies have been done on childhood fitness, and many sets of guidelines have been published. According to Harold Kohl, an epidemiologist from the University of Texas, there are at least 27 sets of official guidelines from various organizations without a lot of data to back them up.
For example, we don’t know why 60 minutes is more sufficient than 30 or 45, how play time or unorganized activity fits into the picture, or how individual differences impact the results. Fortunately, the experts do agree on a few things:
Kids who exercise have stronger muscles, greater endurance, and bones that are denser and have greater mineral content.
When obese children exercise regularly, their body fat, blood lipids, and blood pressure may fall.
Kids should not exercise as “little adults;” for example, it may not be safe for kids to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes straight.
Exercise impacts all children differently – some get more benefit than others, and some get none at all.
Left on their own, most children know best what their bodies need.
So what does this mean for families? Children spend a lot of time being told what to do by parents, teachers, peers, and the media. Maybe it’s time to include our children in the decision-making process, and in turn, teach our kids to listen to their own bodies.
Whether they choose to participate in organized athletics or unorganized activity (“just play”), they stand to gain the benefits of building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, without risking physical or emotional burnout. Activity can contribute fun, creativity, new skills, teamwork, and personal fulfillment to a child’s life.