Shoes: check. Water bottle: check. Pack and play? Sometimes getting a workout in with two infants requires getting a little creative. Sometimes the only option is bringing your kids with you to a workout if you want to get one at all. I bring my boys to my workouts because I plan on keeping them involved in my fitness and encourage them to be fit and active in their lives. There are many well-researched benefits to encouraging children to be active, and by making fitness a part of their lives as much as reading, eating, and sleeping, I intend to make being active an intrinsic part of their lives.
Research shows that kids who exercise choose to exercise more regularly without being pushed. They also make more healthy and nutritious eating choices on their own. Children who are active at least an hour a day (and it doesn’t even have to be consecutive) become and stay more active and healthy throughout their lives. The benefits are effectively cumulative, so the earlier they are instilled, the more powerful they become. It’s sort of like retirement savings, a dollar saved (or in this case, a minute active) adds up to something much larger later in life when the benefits are most needed. Active kids become active adults whereas inactive ones tend to end up couch potatoes themselves.
Because even a little activity a day can dramatically improve overall health and fitness across so many different systems of the body, being active may be the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. Cardiovascular exercise improves and strengthens the lungs and heart, and physical activities like working out improve bone density. As a result, active adults, and therefore kids who practice active lives, have lower rates of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, lung issues, and have even been shown to have lower rates of cancer. Incredibly, setting your kids up with healthy habits early on can mean not only fewer visits to the doctor over their lives but longer lives as well.
Living an active life and making healthy nutritional decisions also correlates with lower weight and fewer weight gains throughout life.There are several mental and emotional benefits too. Active children have higher self-esteem and a better self-image, which can result in higher emotional well-being. This, along with exercise, lowers stress, reduces anxiety and rates of depression, and even improves the ability to handle stress. Beyond this, exercise improves both the quantity and quality of sleep. And getting more sleep comes with a list of benefits nearly as large as being active does. Plus, more sleep for the kids means more sleep for Mom and Dad.
All of this can even help kids once they go to school. Kids who exercise at least an hour a day measure higher performance in school and score better on aptitude tests. Exercise also correlates to higher rates of school attendance too. Kids who exercise regularly also score higher on social skills and the effects are magnified for those who play team sports, even those sports without direct team competition like track or cross country. The Salk Institute studied these effects in children who are active and found direct links between exercise and the production of BDNF, a compound that boosts cognitive aptitude and comprehension as well as the formation of both new brain cells and neurons. They also found that children who exercise regularly demonstrate the ability to focus more, for longer, get distracted less easily, and are less impulsive.
Working out in the gym is great, but hiking can actually be more effective as the combination of exercise and the allure of the great outdoors has shown to be one of the most effective activities to raise healthy kids. Children whose parents take them hiking have the highest rates of exercise later in life across several activities. This is a great reason to take them hiking anywhere from our nation’s beautiful national parks to the little parks near you. Getting them involved and interested in nature early on will produce so many dividends later. Even walking on a nightly basis may be a large factor in encouraging an active life. More important than the activity is the consistency of the activity. This is why we strive to take the dog and the boys out for at least a mile walk every single night.
A less-studied reason for my attempt to share my love of working out with the boys is that I picture it as an outlet for bonding and sharing experiences for us in the future. I not only see us exercising together on weekends and during their early years to stay active, but later on as well. Once the boys leave the nest, I see us continuing to exercise together as a way to keep in touch. Perhaps it is my John Hughes-tinted vision of the future, but I see us meeting up for races, turkey trots, and even just fun trail runs when we are older and sharing a little slice of our lives with each other. It might even be a good way for us to travel together and see the world. There’s no better way to see new places and experience a new culture than running a race or just running where the locals run. Maybe one day I’ll even go with my children's children.
Healthier lives, longer lives, smarter lives, and lives shared more with parents. These are the reasons I bring my infants along for workouts. There are so many reasons to teach them to lead active lives and make healthy decisions, but perhaps most of all it is to share with them the love I have for fitness. Yes, I want them to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives, but I also want them to enjoy their lives. For me, exercise and fitness have brought this, and I can only help them try to find similar fulfillment. So, get used to the view of Daddy on the treadmill in the basement, boys, because we still have a lot of miles in front of us.