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Family Exercise

Fun ways to get the family off the couch.


The US Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, recently brought together walking advocates in Washington, announcing, “We have to make being healthy joyful.” For some, that can be the simple act of taking the dog for a nightly walk; for another, it can be a leisurely stroll with family to catch up on the day’s events.

“The human body was built for movement and function, not to sit in cars and behind computers all hours of the day,” says certified personal trainer Emily Pomykala. “Walking is the most natural movement in human evolution, as it utilizes muscles in every group, and increases both cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance.” And, walking is inclusive of everyone—it is safe for the very young to the very old.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will be producing a Surgeon General’s report that is “a call to action on walking” which will be accompanied by a national campaign for walking, expected to take up to 18 months to launch. But there are many ways parents and kids can incorporate walking into their daily routines now!

Game Night Gets Going

This Game Night goes beyond Monopoly. Play Walking Tag in which everyone has to walk heel to toe, no running allowed, or go on a scavenger hunt in the local mall. Each team gets a list of items that can be found for free—like a straw from a restaurant, or a stick of gum from a shopper, etc. Get creative, and get the whole family involved.

The Original Facetime

Get together with a friend in any weather, and go for a walk. If it’s too cold or rainy, meet at the local mall and promise each other that you will only stop to window shop after 30 solid minutes of catching up while briskly walking.

Phone Fitness

Personal and business calls keep us on the phone for many minutes of the day. Take this time to get up and move. Walk around the house, pace back and forth in your cubicle—just move! Pomykala says, “Marching in place in your living room and incorporating side steps, hamstring curls, and knee raises are equally as effective and can be done in short spurts.” That client on the other end of the phone will never know you are side-stepping while he chats.

Fast Forward to Health

While relaxing at the end the day in front of the television, don’t use the DVR to fast-forward through commercials. Get up during each break and walk around your entire house until you hear your program come back on. During another commercial break, march in place. Let your children recommend ways to walk during commercials and take turns using everyone’s suggestions.

Cardio Contests

Have everyone in the family “earn” time to be sedentary. Make a chart and for every 10 minutes of walking per day, each family member is awarded 10 minutes of a favorite activity that keeps them sitting. Keep track of everyone’s time each week and declare a winner every Friday night. The winner gets 30 minutes extra time for the computer or TV the following week.

Errand Exercise

There are so many places that we could walk to but simply do not because of the ease and convenience of hopping into a car. The library, post office, grocery store, or your child’s school might be within a 10–20-minute walk from your house.

What It’s Worth

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity, but three 10-minute periods of activity are almost as beneficial to your overall fitness as one 30-minute session. “Walking does not have to be chore,” says Pomykala. “It is much easier to encourage a moderate walking program that is free and accessible than it is to encourage people to pay for a gym membership or start throwing around kettlebells.”

Pam Melyan-Bratton is a freelance writer from Rockaway, NJ.


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