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Your kids would probably spend most of their free time with their eyes glued to a screen if you let them. But getting enough activity should be high on your -- and their -- priority list. Childhood obesity is epidemic in this country: Nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. But even kids who don't have a weight problem need regular exercise. Staying active improves a child's mood, boosts her confidence, helps her deal with stress, and establishes habits that she'll keep through life.
The best way to get your kids off the couch is to set an example. You may think your teenagers tune out everything you say or do, but they still look to you as their role model. "They're watching you," says Stephenie Wallace, MD, medical director for the Children's Center for Weight Management at Children's Hospital of Alabama. "Just as kids are likelier to smoke if their parents smoke, they're likelier to make poor food choices and not exercise if that's what they see their parents doing." Your next step? Work fitness into your family's schedule every day. If you usually drive to soccer practice, leave a little early and bike or skateboard there instead. "Your kids will be moving without realizing they're exercising," says psychologist Teri Bourdeau, PhD. "They'll feel great, which will keep them motivated." Try these other fun ideas to help your family get fit.
Change sitting time into active time
Instead of lounging around the house, encourage your teen to walk around the high school track with her best friend while they chat. Turn Sunday brunch into a picnic in the park and bring Frisbees or volleyballs. Cut out a half hour of TV and play Wii fencing or bowling instead. You can't do everything standing up that you normally do sitting (try eating spaghetti on the move!) but you can add fitness elements to many sedentary activities.
Help improve the world -- and yourself
Sign your family up to volunteer as dog walkers at an animal shelter, for a cleanup day at your local park, or to help with repairs for an elderly or low-income homeowner. The endorphins you get from exercise will boost your mood, as will helping someone in need. Go to LHJ.com/dogood to find local organizations.
Mix it up
If your teen wants a little more action, take him to an indoor rock-climbing wall or bouldering class, sign the family up for scuba or snorkeling sessions, or rent a mountain bike and head out on local trails. Or spend a day riding the rapids -- it's not as scary as you might think!
Appeal to their love of competition
No doubt your kids are more than happy to fight with each other any chance they get. Try channeling that competitive fire into an organized challenge. Buy pedometers and see who takes the most steps in one week or is the first to hit 10,000 steps in a day. Make a chart and track how many minutes everyone has exercised for the week. Let the winner choose the next family outing, and make sure it's an active one -- bowling, hiking, renting a boat, or just playing in the park.
Be a team
Signing up for a charity 5K race or walk or a bikeathon is a great way to work toward a goal as a family, and children of any age can get in on the fun. You can come up with a team name, design a family logo, and have your kids make T-shirts. They'll feel great about earning money for a worthy cause, too, and proud that they were able to contribute. It'll be even more memorable if you participate in honor of a friend or family member.
Make fitness a family tradition
If you incorporate physical activity on a regular basis, your kids will look forward to getting up and out. Take a family walk around the neighborhood after dinner a few nights a week, schedule a fitness outing every other Sunday, or finish off your holiday meals with a group softball or flag football game. Make one birthday present per year fitness-oriented: new sneakers, outdoor games, or cool sports gear. It'll become part of your routine that your kids will likely want to continue with their own families.
Learn something new together
Pick a sport or hobby no one in your family has tried before and sign up for lessons. Whether it's tennis, tango, or tae kwon do, you'll all be starting at the same level, so your skills will progress together (more or less). And your kids will appreciate finally being on an even playing field with Mom and Dad.
Try one of these challenging outdoor sports for an unusual -- and thrilling -- family adventure.
This sport requires a handheld GPS or a cell-phone app and a membership to geocaching.com (free for general use; premium membership, with custom searches and alerts, costs $10 for three months). A treasure hunt that's played globally, geocaching involves finding a "cache," usually a waterproof box, that another enthusiast has hidden. There are more than a million caches stashed all over the world. Enter the coordinates to a local cache, lace on your hiking boots, and take the family on a treasure hunt. When you find it, take a prize from inside -- usually small trinkets like toys, buttons, or coins -- and leave something for the next family to discover on their hunt.
Using only a map, a compass, and your general sense of direction, you run, hike or bike -- even canoe -- a several-mile-long outdoor course from point to point and race to complete the challenge in the fastest time without making any mistakes. Go to us.orienteering.org for events near you.
It's not for the faint of heart (or anyone who's afraid of bats), but exploring underground caves can be an exciting experience. You'll use maps, gloves, and your own strength to navigate into the world below the earth's surface. Of course, don't head into the dark without proper training and the right equipment. Visit caves.org for information on spelunking clubs and safety tips.