How To Raise A Fit Healthy Family
We all want the best for our children, and being healthy and fit is probably in the top 3 list when we think of what we really want for them. How do you go about raising your kids to become healthy and fit? I would say the best way is by example. Below are my top tips for raising a sporty, healthy family.
We all know the kids need a lot of repetition before it really gets ingrained in their brains, right? I have repeated the same old song hundreds of times, before one day I notice they are actually doing what I've asked without me asking to. (win!)
When it comes to fitness and health, I believe the best way to teach your kids about a healthy lifestyle is to learn by example. And who is the best person to model that? You are, Mom and Dad! I know, I know, more pressure on you. Sorry to break it to you, but if you are slouching on the couch after work, that's what your kid is going to do as well.
If you take them out to play, and they see you moving your body as well, they learn that this is a norm and they learn to move their bodies also. It's almost so simple it is stupid. But it works!
My heart was about to explode this Mother's Day because we had just come out of 8-week lockdown and the kids suggested we would celebrate Mother's day by running a family marathon! Wow! It was the best gift they could have given me. After this picture was taken, we kept running another 5K. Just because it.was.so.much.fun!
You don't have to take it to the extreme, which I have of course with my tendency to Go All In. Even a little goes a long way in teaching kids that movement is good for everyone.
In this blog post, I will share some of my best advice on how to get in exercise when you have three little kids and no one to help. If you are there, please just know, it will get easier and if you play your cards right, you may also find that you have a flock of athletes in your hands.
A quick recap of my life only 5 years ago. This is the time I was deep into burnout, fatigue, sleep depression, and ppd. I had a baby (1year old, 3 years old, and 4 years old), the husband was gone 3-4 weeks at a time across the world. We lived in Newfoundland, I had no help. Kids were not sleeping through the night, the baby had frequent ear infections, I was sick every other month. Miserable. But I had just finished my first two Olympic distance triathlons and was motivated as hell.
The two eldest went to part-time daycare. So at least I only had one kid. A lot more manageable than having all three under 4 years of age at home fulltime.... yikes.. We would go walk most days in the morning, we went to YMCA where I left him for 45 mins at baby care, and run or lift heavy shit. Here comes tip no.1
FIND A GYM WITH CARE FOR KIDS
Check your local YMCA or gym and ask if they have baby care. Even if it is 45 mins, it is sooooooo worth getting into the gym and busting out a move! Sure, the first few times you may be biting your nails and wonder how your little one is doing (I did) but he and YOU will get used to it. And you know, some days you may be interrupted because baby is crying and they can't get him to calm down (bless him), but at least you tried and believe me, IT WILL GET BETTER!
Often times YMCA has an active club for kids as well where they learn to play sports! Key number one: teach them young. A win-win situation is if the gym is teaching them sports while you are working out! VOILA!
2. MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME
If it is their play time, it's your playtime! Maximize the time you have and MOVE!
Let's say you take the kids to a playground. Let them play. Take a step back while you watch them. I know a lot of kids like their mommies close by. Find a bar or a step and start doing push-ups holding on to the bar, do incline pull-ups, step-ups on to the step, do squats, lunges, jumping jacks, all the things we learned as kids. Do leg lifts sitting on the bench. It's ok for adults to use the play equipment too, you know! Forget about other people watching you. Just do it. See what the kids do. They might actually follow your lead.
Here we are on a family vacation in Florida, I am sprinting and pushing the kids in swings. We also walked EVERYWHERE with these monkeys in town. Stay at the beach, walk everywhere, even in States.
Ok, let's say you're a soccer mom. Instead of parking your huge camping chair, an enormous mug of coffee, and stare at your iPhone, get some movement in while you watch your kids play. Run around the field. Do bodyweight exercises, do yoga, get your 10 000 steps in. This is the time you take control of your health. Ask your fellow mom to join you, you can still chat together.
If you're taking your kids to gymnastics, or other inside facilities, don't just sit there with your phone. Go for a run! Bring a yoga mat and do strength training. Doing some core work never killed anyone and the chances are, that instead of feeling cranky, your kids will be met again by an excited happy mom. Win-win.
Plus when they see you are taking care of your health, they see that it is important and you are making an effort. Chances are they understand it is important to stay healthy and want to stay healthy as well.
3. DON'T TRY TO HIDE YOU ARE WORKING OUT
Now, some kids are quite clingy and selfish. I don't mean to be rude, but that's just how they are. They may protest you going for a run or doing exercises while they are on their activities or at the playground.
Mine was like, "Mom, what are you doing?! Mom, mom, push me, push me", or "mom, mom, watch me, watch me". They would initially try to sabotage me focusing on my stuff, but I didn't give up." I would tell them, "Let me finish this set, then I will push you on a swing, then I do this again". Or I would invite them to join me. Sometimes I would use their bodyweight as an extra load for my workouts. They loved to hang on to me when doing squats. I would also do squats every time I pushed them on a swing. Make it into a game!
Stay open-minded, stay creative.
Pulling the kids up a hill to our house was fun both for them and for me.
The key is to stay firm and tell your kid that while he is playing, you are playing your way, and it is important for mommy to do this for mommy's health. They will get it. Even if it may take 100 times. Stay patient.
Just don't give up - no matter what! And don't show your frustration to them. Then they know they got under your skin, and they will do whatever it takes tomorrow as well to stop your workout.
By the way, have you ever tried those monkey bars? It is tough work! You should try them! A great strength and coordination workout. Your kids might find it fun if you'd bust out a monkey call and try them!
Listen, if you are apprehensive about what other parents think.... just put music in your ears and a cap on and ignore the looks. I've been in taekwondo classes where I brought a yoga mat and did my strength routine for 45 mins, and the rest of the parents about 20 of them stared at their screens the entire time only to glance at me sweating and panting. I don't know what went through their minds, and I don't care. It was my only chance for that day to get in 45 mins of exercise, and I took it! Always put your health first, no matter what. Put that on your mental notes. Who knows, maybe next time you can get one of the moms to join you.
The key point is: when your kid is active, be active.
4. BE ACTIVE TOGETHER
When my kids were still in diapers, we went for walks, and bike rides, ski trips, playgrounds, hikes. We did a lot of activities together. Yes, I know, it takes a lot of prep and you end up carrying all kinds of stuff like a sherpa, but trust me when I say, it is all worth it!
Owen learning skiing at 3 years of age.
My top three investments:
1. Kids bike without pedals. It's called a balance bike. The kiddo basically sits on the seat and runs while holding on to the bar. It is an excellent way for the kids to learn to balance on the bike without the risk of falling all the time. My three kids went through one of these bikes and none of them needed training wheels. They are all very capable bike handlers, as my youngest is showing you below.
2. Travel potty: it's a lifesaver! It's this little ring that folds up to hold the kid's weight while they sit on it and do their business. You keep it a the back of your car in a bag with plastic disposable bags that go around the ring, and wet wipes. Super easy and saves the hassle of finding a bathroom.
3. Bike wagon for little ones to sit in behind your bike. SOOOO worth the money! Plus you get some of it back when you sell it. The resale value is great! Try finding a used one on your local used market. When you want to get a good run or bike in, get your kids to sit in the wagon and let it rip! My tips: lots of books/toys and snacks and they are entertained for a long time! This is also a great way to bribe them if they are resisting: Tell them you will take them to a playground, to the river to throw rocks after, or something else they enjoy doing in nature.
5. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
As you know, kids love routine. Some kids more than others, but it gives them security and safe feeling when they know what to expect.
Our routine has been to eat breaky and get going outside to get our activities done. Hiking, running, biking, playground. Whatever you have the opportunity to do, do it in the morning. It will energize you, the kids and everyone gets into a great mental mindset with those endorphins flowing through everyone's bodies. As the kids grow older, you can ditch the bike and run while they bike with you. Again, don't show your frustration if you need to stop for the 100th time to break up a fight, look at a flower, pet a dog, pee in the bush, or blow a nose. It's fine. You are moving, and you are spending time with your kids AND they learn to be active with you.
My kids are now 9, 8, and 6 and we go for bike rides together, we run together, we do strength workouts together. I hate soccer, but I kick the ball with them because they love it, I stay active and that way they will return the favor to me when I want to go for a run.
6. KEEP NUTRITION HEALTHY
This is one of the most important lessons. Start feeding the kids healthy nutritious meals when they are young. Keep the chips, candy, fried stuff for special occasions. Pack them healthy meals for school so they can focus and learn. If their lunches are full of sugary juice, fruit roll-ups etc, their brains are going on sugar overdrive and they will have hard time focusing.
When they ask why they don't get fruit roll-ups, and other stuff like their classmates do, talk about making healthy choices and WHY it is important. You don't have to get into body image stuff, or talk about weight. You can print out a nutrition information table for kids and talk about each group. Here's a link to a great food pyramid for 2-6-year-olds. It is easier for the kids to learn healthy eating habits at this age when they are not as much influenced by their peers as in 8-10+ year olds.
The second thing I would like to point out here is that you are the first-hand example for your kids. What you eat, they want to eat. If you don't have your habits in check, you cannot expect them to either. The easiest way to resist temptations is to NOT have bags of chips, cookies, whatever is your guilty pleasure, laying around in your cupboards. Occasional treat is fine, but make it special.
7. HAVE A GOAL AND BE REALLY CLEAR ON YOUR WHY
Since my first triathlons 5 years ago, I've accomplished so much more than I ever thought I could. I am quite astonished at what I have been able to do, actually. I do not mean to brag, but I never thought I could become this fit in my 40s.
I had to go through really tough times to form into the person I am today, no question about it. I realize that I am not a diamond- yet- and I have a long way to go where I want to go. I am so excited about my goals and visions for myself and my family it gets me all giggly to think about!
And here is my last tip for you. Set a goal so high you are a little scared while super excited about it. Then visualize it and write it down. Post that notes somewhere you and all your family see it.
Then get to work on getting clear how you will make this happen. Many people make the mistake of simply writing your goals down and then......crickets. They occasionally look at the note and think "yeah, one day I will do that".
No-No-No. You've got to get really really clear on what you want, WHY you want it, and HOW you are going to get there. Three simple things: WHAT. WHY and HOW!
Let me explain with an example.
Two years ago I decided it was time to test myself and train for an Ironman. We had just moved to Dubai, and I finally had help (hubby at home, well, most of the time, and kids at school during the day) and I had time to train.
I mapped out family routines and identified the time I had available for training- realistically. School, my work, groceries, kids after school activities, etc. Then I went into meditation mode and made it very clear to myself WHY I am doing this. Because I knew that when the shit hit the fan, and it ALWAYS does, knowing my why very intimately would get my ass on the gear and complete the training.
My why, by the way is my burning desire to show my kids that it is never too late to make your dreams come true, and that if you work smartly towards your goals, you will find a lot more than what you first went to look for. I want to be a role model for my kids to grow into healthy fit adults.
Then I asked myself HOW? I knew I could coach myself, but I also knew I would second guess and spent too much time on building my program to change it up again. No, I needed to get someone to help me. So I asked my friend Tenille to guide me. It took the thinking part out of the equation and I trusted someone who has been there to guide me.
I told her I have 10-20 hrs per week for training and I want to qualify for Ironman World Championships in Kona.
After 9 months of training smart and hard, I snatched 3rd place in Ironman Norway (read the race report here) but did not qualify.
Now you may ask, “How is it even possible to fit 10-20 hrs of training in a week with three kids and a husband that travels a lot? You must have some help". Nope, it's me, hubby, and the kids. Although I would love to have help! Don't we all, right?!
But let's get the record straight, ok?! I don't clean the house. I work from home for my coaching company, Be Sisu Fit. I coach runners and skiers online, and I don't spend time commuting and working for someone else. My work is flexible, I can do it from anywhere. Now, I don't work a lot (15-20-hrs a week) because I simply don't have the time. But I also don't have time to kick around, have lunches with friends, and watch Netflix.
Now, I've chosen this life and I am very clear on what I spend my time on.
Here's what my schedule looks like. Weekdays, I train after I drop the kids off at school. A typical day would look like this: Wake up at 5 am, meditate, write, do my morning routine. Breaky, get everyone ready, leave the house 7:30 am, drop kids off at 7:45, then workout 8:30-11 / or longer depending on what I have in my training plan, lunch, work, and short 30 min nap (recovery is the 4th discipline in triathlon), work/or groceries, pick up kids at 3 pm, after school activities, dinner, get ready for bed, or coaching calls, and lights off at 9 pm. Repeat. Weekends are for baseball and long bike rides. :D
I understand very well, not everyone has the luxury to take time for themselves like I do when kids are at school. You need to bring the dough in. I get that. I didn't use to have that luxury either until 2018 when we moved to Dubai. I had no time for myself. Nada. I had three kids most of the time by myself 24/7. Three of them.
Still, even then I did get some exercise in, nowhere near Ironman level requirements, but most days at least a little bit. I got mighty creative. I have to admit, I am a bit of a lonely wolf, and I don't need the social aspect to get moving. I have the motivation to start and keep moving. The movement itself feels so good to me. That is the point. You've gotta find some form of movement that you enjoy. The movement needs to bring you so much joy that you look forward to doing it again and again.
LASTLY, I want you to understand that being ADAPTABLE is the key. I get this question a lot: how do I manage it all? I don't know, I guess I have the ability to see the long term implications of doing things now even if for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes is better than nothing. My workouts have been interrupted by a sudden need for a bathroom visit, which was nowhere around, breaking up fights, help with nosebleeds, hunger, thirst (always pack water, food and first aid kit. My hubby calls me a walking pharmacy), we've had to leave the stage several times due to nr. 2 accidents.
Once or twice, I think my oldest said it's embarrassing for him when I am doing my workouts by the field. That's a tricky one. I explained to him that I was sorry it was embarrassing for him, but I was taking care of my health AND wanted to watch him play at the same time. That seemed to work, as it is still important for him that I am watching him play. And now he knows that mom is just taking care of herself while watching, instead of sitting and staring on her iPhone, which is a lot more devastating for the kids when they see I missed their double play because I was on my phone. Do you see my point?
Getting in your exercise in a busy life is about prioritizing your health, establishing habits, asking for help (even your kids), and getting creative on how to balance the imbalance. I believe it is important to realize that life is never in perfect balance. When you are on cloud nine about your beautiful kids, another part of your life might be imbalance (like your relationship with friends, or hubby). OR your work may be going amazing but you stress at home because you feel you don't have time to take care of yourself.
And that is ok. I have stopped fighting the imbalance and wasting my energy on chasing the unreachable "balance in life". You need to take the same look on big goals as running the marathon; you can only run a marathon one step at a time.
You've got the trust yourself that you will grow wings once in the air.
The Way You Live Your Life Greatly Influences The Way Your Kids Will Live Theirs.
Show your kids what a healthy life is and they will follow. Talk to them about your goals and dreams. Talk to them about how you can together get fit and healthy. Make it into a daily routine. And oh, if I could give one more advice, it would be this:
MAKE ONE GOOD DECISION EVERY DAY.
I don't always have it all together. I don't always want to workout either. Sometimes I am really pooped from all the training, or we are busy, or sometimes I feel like stuffing my face with a cheesecake. OR a bag of chips. It is natural to have cravings, bad days, or feeling pooped. It is ok to be stressed sometimes. It is ok to eat that ice-cream. It is ok to watch that movie. But remember to counteract with one good choice every day. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself compassion. It is all part of showing your kids how to live your life imperfectly perfect.
Wait, what? Did you just say "I just feel so guilty taking time for myself?" I also feel the Mom Guilt creep in from time to time. Let's talk about it next week, ok?!