02/17/2014 08:21 EST | Updated 04/17/2014 05:59 EDT

On Family Day, Improve Your Fitness Together

Start with one family walk or run per week. During the holidays, when everyone is at home from school or work, add another one in. Have someone volunteer to make a schedule and stick it to the refrigerator door or entrance to your home. Don't discourage anyone from getting out on their own but save one special walk or run as a family.

What follows is an excerpt from the book Running Room's Book On Family Fitness by John Stanton and Don Zabloski.

The family that walks and runs together stays together. It's true. Families that are consistently active together usually stay together longer and come together more often in the future for those special runs or walks as family traditions.

You need to think about the desired outcome that you have in mind for your family's health. Share that outcome with your family. Doing so will help clarify and motivate each family member's understanding and commitment toward achieving the desired outcome. What do we want our family to look like and to feel like in terms of the benefits of the healthy lifestyle practices? What do we want them to learn? How will we experience success as a family?

The journey starts as early as possible with our children. Health-care providers encourage a healthy and active lifestyle for all moms-to-be. For children under two years, allow them to bend, kick, stretch and roll by themselves and with parents' assistance. Their first steps can be looked at as your first family walk and run together. An early start provides growing children with the knowledge and understanding that physical activity and healthy nutrition are normal practices for your family. Initially encouraged by their parents, children learn to make their own healthy choices and carry them into their futures.

When every family member has an opportunity to talk about and be engaged in the process, this sense of ownership prevails. Everyone feels like a partner in supporting and determining their family's wellness destination. Active and healthy children will naturally become active and healthy teens who will then become active and healthy adults and so on, into those senior years.

As parents, you can facilitate the process along the way. Set short-term goals and identify positive changes that have occurred as a family or with individual members. Sharing specific observations about changes since starting your family walk or run outings helps clarify that end picture of a healthy family. For example, everyone is able to walk or run three kilometres now after starting the first few sessions at one kilometre. You are also walking faster but at a comfortable pace for everyone. You're drinking more water as a family. Having every family member contribute in this way allows them to be the best that they can be. Taking the time to get out for those daily or weekly family walk or runs takes some work and planning by everyone involved.

Encourage and model daily activity for all family members. This may come from parents, one of the children who is most active, grandparents or family friends who are considered part of your family. Rather than taking the car, walk or run to school, work, stores, friend's homes or the library, anywhere that is reasonable. Be patient--the results will come. Remember, your goal is for a lifetime of active and healthy living. Performing daily routines under one's own steam will lead to a better introduction to those walk and run outings. Provide an opportunity for input about what the best time is that everyone can come together for a family walk or run.

Start with one family walk or run per week. During the holidays, when everyone is at home from school or work, add another one in. Have someone volunteer to make a schedule and stick it to the refrigerator door or entrance to your home. Don't discourage anyone from getting out on their own but save one special walk or run as a family.

Let everyone choose a variety of routes and distances through the neighbourhood. Routes around the block, schoolyards and walking paths can all be included. Create a neighbourhood walk/run map and post beside the schedule. Some days you can go in opposite directions around the chosen route. Consider getting on your bikes, riding a bus or hopping into your vehicle and going to a special place in your community for your walk or run--for example, a park or a trail system across town. To start, distances should be age appropriate for young children.

If you are just starting out as a family, consider progressing from slow walking to faster walking to a slow run over a series of outings. Everyone should be able to walk or run and carry on a conversation. Warm up with a two-minute walk, progress to a slow run for one minute, walk for a minute, slow run for a minute and then walk. For a cool down include some simple stretches at the end. The Running Room introductory walk/run schedule would be a great example to follow. Be patient--the results will come. Keep the distances and times appropriate for your family member's ages and levels of fitness.

Encourage everyone to stay together initially. As the outings continue, you'll start to notice some individual changes occurring in everyone's fitness levels. Some may be able to walk or run at a faster pace, especially if they have been also getting out on their own. Recognizing and supporting those individual differences is important for everyone's motivation and self-esteem, but don't allow anyone to be by themselves. Have a buddy within your family. As the outings progress, ensure everyone starts together. If someone wants to go at a faster pace, allow him or her to go with a buddy, for an agreed upon period of time or distance and always in visual contact. Then everyone regroups and finishes the outing as a family just like you started.

Wear something special for the walk/run sessions. Is there an opportunity for any special walk/run shoes or an item of clothing to be purchased (e.g., wicking T-shirts, shorts, hats, jackets, socks).

Invite a friend, grandparent or other close friend to join you on some of the outings. You might meet at a special community park for a walk or run and picnic afterwards. Consider trying a variety of walk or run combinations--relays, intervals, rolling hills in a park, snowshoe walks--and on a variety of surfaces--sidewalk, grass, artificial track or in an indoor pool for water belt walking/running.

Plan to enter a family-oriented walk or run event, which are held at various times throughout the year. There are many worthwhile charity events that include a variety of age categories and distances for children, youth and adults or just stay together and walk or run the event together.

Goal setting for a lifestyle that includes many family walk or runs together will certainly lead to a lifetime of memorable and healthy family traditions that all family members can be proud of and benefit from.


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