We all know exercise is good for us. It strengthens your entire cardiovascular system, including your heart and lungs, and helps prevent heart disease. Cardiovascular exercise (“cardio”) also burns calories, which helps you manage your weight, which is also good for your heart.

Many people consider exercise to be a solo activity, but what if exercise could be a family activity? To help strengthen our bodies and our bonds? Something you can do together, instead of spending all of your leisure time playing computer games, checking social media or watching TV?

Research shows that active parents raise active children, and active children are more likely to grow up to be healthy adults. Developing positive exercise habits at a young age will pay dividends later in life. Unfortunately, about 17% of children in the U.S. ages 2-9 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is a large contributor to poor heart health and risk for heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends that healthy children, age 2 and older, participate in one hour of moderate to vigorous activity every day to help them maintain a healthy weight and ward off heart disease, cancer and stroke.

But everyone’s busy. Between homework, after-school and after-work chores, extracurricular activities, making dinner and finding time to relax, how can you carve out time for family exercise?

Here are a few tips to get your family up and moving, together!

  • Limit screen time. Playing on the computer, checking our phones and watching TV are sedentary activities that are counterproductive to good health. Commit to limiting your and your family’s time with electronics and repurpose some of that time for more healthful activities.
  • Take a walk before or after dinner, and make it routine. Walking helps lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and boosts your metabolism, which burns energy and calories. Plus, a daily family walk is a good time to catch up on your day, without the distraction of electronics.
  • Walk the dog. (Or if you don’t have one, consider adopting one.) There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that owning a dog may improve your heart health, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, lower your blood pressure and lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Let the kids decide. Ask your kids what they’d like to do as a family, or give them options, and let them choose. Involving them in the decision making will make them feel empowered, inspiring their cooperation.
  • Make it a surprise. Have everyone in the family write exercise ideas on slips of paper. Ideas can range from dance moves to jumping jacks to a jog down the street. Fold the slips and put them in a hat. Take turns drawing ideas and performing the exercises on the slips.
  • Form a team for charity. Sign your family up for a fun run or bike ride benefiting a charity, then train together for the event. Doing so will instill a sense of camaraderie and will help your kids understand the benefits of supporting a worthy cause.
  • Make chores fun – even competitive! Assign active chores – raking leaves, vacuuming, walking the dog – and assign points to each. Keep track of points in a visible spot in the house, and award small prizes for achieving point milestones.
  • Be a good role model. Kids tend to mimic the behaviors they observe of their parents. Avoid the “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality by getting up off the sofa and being active yourself.

Getting into a habit of regular exercise as a family builds both bodies and bonds. The good habits your kids form early in life will help them live longer, healthier lives, and will help prevent serious illnesses, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. (And you’ll reap those benefits, too!)

To learn more about how you and your family can adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, schedule an appointment with a cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann online or by calling (713) 222-2273.

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