Fun with Fitness

By changing their definition of "working out," this family finds fitness is fun.

Father biking with child

Father biking with child

"There are four simple things you can do to increase your chances for a long healthy life," a wise friend once told me. "Eat right, don't smoke, wear a seat belt and exercise."

From his simplified assessment, I felt my wife, Jenny, and I were doing pretty well…until he mentioned the dreaded eight-letter "E" word!

Like many busy people, we found that exercise didn't fit into our hectic schedule. There just wasn't enough time.

It's not that we didn't try. Each New Year's Day, for example, I'd renew my vow to regularly exercise. By February 1, however, my mind and body would barely recall that worn-out resolution.

To add new excitement to exercise, we once purchased an expensive motorized treadmill. "We can walk every day, regardless of the weather," Jenny convinced me. A few years later, I sold that "showroom-new" gadget for half of what we paid, opting to use the money toward a health-club membership.

But that didn't work either. There just wasn't time in the evenings to travel to the gym, work out, freshen up and drive back home again.

Fitness That "Fits"

This past year, I'm proud to say, Jenny and I both found a way to exercise regularly by simply changing our approach. Instead of adjusting our lifestyle to include routine exercise, we simply made exercise fit our routine lifestyle.

The benefits have been tremendous. Jenny's found an effective way to keep off those few nagging pounds, and I've found a way to chase our young sons, Ben and Aaron, around the yard without becoming winded. Plus we've discovered exercising as a family is more fun and a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle to our growing boys.

Here are a few things that helped us:

  • Keep the routine flexible. We exercise for about 20 minutes, three or four times a week. This gives us a chance to skip working out on those extremely busy days, or take a break when we don't feel like exercising. By keeping a loose schedule like this, we don't feel guilty if we miss a day now and then.

  • Start slow and gradually increase activity. Jenny and I both checked with our doctor before we began exercising (and you should, too!). Then we started slow, but stuck to a 20-minute workout.

    As our stamina and pace increased, we started using light hand weights (1 to 3 pounds) with the routine. As we walk, we'll do different lifting exercises with the weights. It's a great aerobic workout.

    Be careful not to overdo it, though. Gradually build your activity so you don't risk injury. Your body is a great indicator. Listen to what it tells you.

  • Variety is the spice of exercise. To keep things interesting, we mix up our activities.

    If I walk one day, the next time I exercise I'll work on improving my strength and tone by doing push-ups and "crunches" (modified sit-ups that are more beneficial and easier on the back).

    We also look for things to do as a family. This includes riding bikes or playing street hockey (we live on a quiet street with very little traffic). If I work up a sweat doing one of these activities, I don't have to exercise that day!

  • Stay close to home. We discovered it's just as easy to get a good workout at home as it is at a health club. Plus, we can complete our exercises in the same amount of time it used to take us to drive to the gym.

  • A carrot at the end of the stick. It's much easier to exercise if you have something to work toward. I began playing recreational hockey, so I exercise to help stay in shape for the season.

    You may want to sign up for a local run/walk or perhaps a charity bike ride for the whole family.

    Giving yourself a goal is an excellent way to monitor your progress and feel good about your efforts. So go ahead—make exercise fun. You may not even realize it's a workout at all!