A family that eats and exercises together is a family that’s more likely to be healthy together.
That premise is why Emily Spicer and John Crist help run the Healthy ‘N Fit Kids and Families program at Altru, which encourages parents and children to work together toward living healthy lifestyles.
Spicer and Crist said there are small lifestyle changes parents can make that greatly will improve both their own and their children’s health.
Involving kids in a parent’s day-to-day activities can be beneficial to both the parent and child, said Spicer, a health, wellness and fitness professional at Altru. By doing things such as going on a family bike ride or taking a walk together before dinner, the kids are having fun while also getting exercise.
It also can be important to make healthier choices when deciding what recreational activities to do as a family. Instead of going out to eat or going to a movie, Spicer suggests going to the pool or going to a place such as Northern Air to jump on trampolines.
“Doing these things as families is super important because then nobody feels isolated,” she said.
The winter months can be more difficult for family exercise because of the brutal Upper Midwest cold, but outdoor ice rinks provide a good place to do exercise, she said. If that’s not an option, there are things families can do inside, such as playing a card game where depending on what card is drawn, it’s a different type of body weight exercise, or playing an active video game, such as “Dance, Dance Revolution.”
“It’s important to find activities they look forward to,” she said.
For nutrition, Crist, a registered dietitian at Altru, said parents should involve kids in the process of both shopping for their meals and preparing them. It’s important for a parent to recognize he or she is responsible for what food is in the house, while the child is responsible for what – and how much – he or she eats.
Because of that, Crist said it’s important for parents to be good role models by talking to their children about healthy eating and why it’s important.
“A really powerful motivation for kids is to be a good role model,” he said.
To keep kids working toward a healthy diet, Crist said it’s helpful to take them to the grocery store so they understand why certain foods are purchased, and also setting a routine, such as eating dinner at the same time every night so the child doesn’t overindulge at snack time.
“Any change or any adjustment to your family’s habits is probably going to be met with some resistance, but experimenting with it and being persistent with trying new things and involving the kids in the process goes a long way,” he said.
Both Spicer and Crist run the Healthy ‘N Fit Kids and Families program at Altru, where they teach kids these lifestyle decisions.
The program is made up of eight-week classes where kids come in and learn about healthy nutrition choices and how to exercise in ways they can sustain for a lifetime. The classes spend 30 minutes with a dietician and 30 minutes with a fitness instructor, teaching kids everything from the proper portion size and the benefits of fruits and vegetables to hands-on activities such as a grocery store tour and taking them to the gym to learn exercises.
“We want to instill good habits in them from the beginning and make sure parents are also a big part of that so they can implement them at home,” Spicer said.