Monday, November 06, 2006

Support Can Be Beautiful!

One of the biggest obstacles families trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle face is a lack of support. There will always be children to watch, meals to cook, housework, homework and chores to be done. If we had an extra two hours in the day, we’d probably all be fit, right? At one point do we give ourselves permission to put responsibilities aside and make time for a workout? Each family must discover what works best for them, but as a general rule of thumb, you’re more likely to succeed if you plan your workout, set some guidelines AND plan alternative activities for everyone.

For example, I like to hit the treadmill first thing in the morning. Doing so starts my day with an accomplishment, and I can shower without interrupting the rest of the day. I can do strength and flexibility training at night, but if I do cardio before bed, I’m too wired to sleep. However, my husband works nights and takes morning classes on his off days, and my kids often wake up early. And as a former competitive athlete, I tend to get into “The Zone” when I work out, and I can’t handle distractions. So if I’m going to get a workout in, I need to finish, or nearly finish, before the kids come padding down the stairs.

In the past, this meant dragging myself out of bed and barely hitting the start key before being interrupted. This was incredibly frustrating and on more than one occasion I cut my workout short because I just couldn’t concentrate. Have you been there? Here you are, trying to do something healthy and positive for yourself, and you spend your time breathlessly telling the kids you don’t know what’s for breakfast yet, they need to go back upstairs and get ready for school, no you can’t fix that broken toy right now, stop chasing the cat, you don’t know where they left their library book but they could look for it themselves, leave your brother alone, etc., etc. Sure, it gets the heart rate up, but not the way you were hoping for!

To make things run more smoothly, sit down with your family and set some boundaries. Fortunately, my kids are old enough that they can take care of themselves when they wake up. Something that helps is letting them pick a book or quiet activity to do if they hear me on the treadmill. You might enlist the help of an older sibling to look after your youngest. Give the kids a list of chores—like making their beds, straightening up their room and getting ready for school—which they must finish before they leave their room. This works for people who like to work out later in the day as well. Just change the list to suit your family’s needs and abilities. Maybe this is a good time to have the kids gathering up their dirty laundry or emptying the wastebaskets. And there’s always homework. Even if your kids are not old enough to have homework, a few coloring and activity books from the dollar store or puzzles can be very handy. If you still need help, see if a neighbor is willing to swap babysitting duties with you and you can each get a workout while the other watches the kids.

Also make sure that you are talking to your family about why you need the time to work out. Try to avoid saying, “Mommy wants to fit into a certain size,” or “Dad needs to lose 50 pounds.” Those statements might be true, but when you say that to your kids, you are emphasizing appearance over health, and that is setting them up for poor body image issues down the road. Instead, tell your kids you want to work out so you can improve your health and fitness level. They usually understand the concept of practicing skills in order to improve. They do it with their spelling words, on their sports fields, in their music lessons, etc. So let them think of your workouts as “practice” toward better health and they’ll get it. We all need to understand that good health and fitness should be part of our daily lives, not just something you think about once in a while. Adopt this attitude yourself and it will rub off on your children. And once they understand that, it will be much easier to enlist their support.

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