Give Your Family a Health Makeover
How to Make Your Family HealthierHow to Make Your Family Healthier
I used to be a gym rat. I lifted weights, blew off steam in aerobics class, and then stuck around for the first 30 minutes of a yoga session before catching up with my fiance for a veggie burger and a low-cal beer. Then came marriage and Baby Boy One. As a new mom, I was lucky if I squeezed in a weekly Pilates class or jog in the park. Post Baby Boy Two? I pretty much fell off the fitness wagon altogether. My time became neatly divided into two piles: kids and work. Running? I was too darn tired. Besides, it seemed indulgent to take an hour for myself.
In the plus column, I was cooking more, so you'd expect we'd eat better. And initially we did. But fast-forward a dozen-plus years, Baby Boys One and Two are quick-growing teenagers: Mac, 18, and Mose, 14. The organic peas have given way to the convenient-but-not-so-good-for-you foods that kids crave and make busy moms cave. (Do you know that there can be 500 or more calories in a frozen burrito? Extra-cheese sausage pizza? You don't want to know.) Though we're free of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, our sedentary habits and less than perfect diets have left us...underfit.
Recently, at about the same time that high cholesterol drove my husband, Peter, back to the gym, I realized I'd edged from an oh-my-jeans-are-tight condition, curable with a few days of good living, to a more permanent state of pudge. I alternated for a while between denial ("Hey, I don't look too bad!") and disbelief ("What the heck happened here?"). Finally I bought a pair of running shoes and hit the bricks. At first I walked. Then I, groan, jogged. I hooked up with a neighborhood running group to keep my motivation steady and, newly energized, began preaching the fitness gospel around my house.
My zeal was met with the bored stares of two teenage boys sprawled on the couch, watching TV and munching on cookies. Clearly, spreading enthusiasm for good health habits was going to take time. It wouldn't happen overnight or even in a week. Realistically, I had to give us at least a month to see which junk food and sitcom patterns we could overhaul. And since old -- and fattening -- habits die hard, I would need a little help.
The first expert I consulted heartily endorsed my plan. Healthy living is easiest when it's a family affair, the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center's Edward Laskowski, MD, told me when we chatted on the phone. A specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, he had spent plenty of time thinking about kids and exercise. "Parents need to initiate discussions about exercise, but they can make it a team effort," he explained. "Each family member is needed to make the team function well."
That night, with my go-team-go attitude in place, I "invited" my family to be part of my fitness club. "All right, guys, I think it's time we all got fitter," I suggested over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. There was quiet chewing around the table.
"What would we have to do?" Mose inquired, sounding worried.
"You know, eat better and exercise more," I answered hopefully. Quiet chewing turned to plain old quiet.
I continued enthusiastically. "It could be fun. Everyone liked when we went kayaking on vacation, right?" Nods all around. "Well, that was active; we could do it again."
"We can skip school and go back to New Mexico?" Mose asked, suddenly ready to sign on.
"Well, no," I admitted.
"What about paintball? That looks cool, and it's very active," Mac pointed out. Mose agreed excitedly.
Donning camo and shooting my husband and sons with an air gun? Not my idea of life-affirming exercise, or good parenting. I struggled to explain. "The idea is to find everyday things we can do to lay down some lifelong healthy habits," I said. "How about it? Let's give it a month."
"Nah," Mac said. Peter shrugged.
Clearly, playing nice wasn't going to cut it. "Change is coming!" I snapped. Peter wandered into the kitchen for more spaghetti. My sons looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Not a promising beginning, but it got better. Four weeks later, here are the lessons I've learned.
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