Regimens: Keep It Fun, But Keep 'Em Moving

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, February 1994

Regimens: Keep It Fun, But Keep 'Em Moving

Quality time that's good for both heart and soul
By Kit Cody

Tossing a ball with your kids is as American as Cub Scouts and training wheels, but it probably won't get their hearts pumping fast enough to do much cardiovascular good. On the other hand, it's not easy convincing the Nintendo generation to participate in full-body aerobic workouts unless the activities are user-friendly and at least as fun as Mortal Kombat. A simple jaunt to the park can lead to quality aerobic activity if you use your wits and follow the advice of Project SPARK head instructor Paul Rosengard: "Be creative and make it fun." There's no need for outright deceit, but remember, you're still smarter than they are.

  • Stretch out. Start with the head and continue down the body, working the major muscle groups with the same types of stretches that adults use, making sure to spend a little extra time on the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles. "Whenever possible, you should integrate a warm-up into the activity you plan to do," says Rosengard. "Start out slow and gradually work into full speed."
  • Keep moving. Brisk walking, slow jogging, running, skating, or biking--the key to aerobic fitness is continual motion. Vary the pace to keep the workout interesting, but don't let the legs rest. Rosengard suggests setting up a timed course through the park and encouraging the kids to best their personal records with each outing. "We don't set activity levels for the kids we teach," he says, "but we do help them set individual goals and encourage improvement."
  • Build strength. The most obvious way is with a familiar regimen of calisthenics, but the trick is not to come across as a drill sergeant. Many parks have fitness stations where different exercises can be performed, but in parks that don't, invent your own. Use available equipment to devise tasks--climb the monkey bars, do chin-ups on the swing set, leap across the sandbox--and execute them as a team. "Try follow-the-leader type activities," says Rosengard, "and switch the roles."
  • Refine motor skills. The way most kids like to exercise is any way that involves a ball. Don't be afraid to take advantage of this tendency--learning sports skills helps develop coordination and agility, improving them builds self-confidence, and mastering them offers a lifelong opportunity to stay active. But since the standard game of catch is a passive pastime, consider modifying such small-group games to make them more aerobic. Instead of catch, invent a game that includes running as well as throwing. Similarly, adding a second ball to a game of soccer or hoops will help to keep the action--and hence the heart rates--more up-tempo.
  • Cool down. Wrap up the workout by talking about what muscles were used, then spend five minutes stretching them out. Long-term flexibility depends on these brief shakedown sessions. Just taking a walk will help cool the legs down--and it's a great excuse to give the car a rest and explore the neighborhood on the way home.

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