Instilling healthy habits with exercise

April 2, 2010 9:39:12 AM PDT
How life changes in the blink of an eye! When you bring home that little bundle of joy, a "Mom" for the first time, your main drive is just keeping your baby alive. Now, fast forward just a few years, I'm the mother of two toddlers: Emma (2) and Luke (3-1/2) and I realize I'm not just keeping them alive, but instilling habits that could last a lifetime and, possibly, shaping what kind of adults my children will become. WOW, talk about responsibility! One trait my husband, Greg, and I are trying to instill upon our children is the love of exercise.

It seems like nearly every week we're hearing a story on the news about the epidemic of obesity in America. My father died of a combination of type II diabetes and heart disease, mainly brought on by his lack of exercise. He didn't have a chance to watch Luke grow up and never even met Emma. I begged him to exercise, but it was too late. He didn't grow up exercising and, therefore, it was considered a chore. As parents, we want to teach Luke and Emma that exercise is FUN.

We started taking Luke and Emma to swim classes at the local YMCA when they were about 6 months old. As owners of a backyard pool, we consider swim classes a must: not just for fun and exercise, but basic survival. Early this spring, Luke (just 3 at the time) started swimming on his own. We were so impressed, that is, until Emma, not to be outdone by her big brother, started swimming without her flotation bubble by mid-summer (when she was not even 2!) Many afternoons we are poolside for hours watching Emma, who makes us call her Ariel ("The Little Mermaid"), try to out swim Luke, aka Bruce the shark ("Finding Nemo"). They usually wolf down a huge dinner and sleep like rocks those nights.

In a way, running began for Luke and Emma when they were just a few days old. Thank goodness for jogging strollers with infant car seat attachments! Four days after Luke was born, I had him bundled up in his car seat clipped into the baby jogger. He slept. I pushed him, trying to work off the baby weight. When Emma arrived, I bought a double baby jogger. It wasn't long before Luke was begging to run with me (sometimes helping me push Emma.) Now running is a family affair. We go to cross country races that feature kiddie runs. They are short, usually taking less than a minute (more for Emma, since she likes to stop and play with the little cone marking the turnaround.) For road races, Greg often pushes the double baby jogger (Emma promptly falls asleep and Luke yells "Go Daddy" and they smoke most of the field.) I get to run on my own. When anyone asks why Greg has to push both kids, I explain that I carried them each for 9 months straight. Now, its Daddy's turn! As competitive as we are, Greg and I stress that winning isn't the goal: it's all about having fun. And races don't have to be organized. Every night, a pre-bedtime ritual for Luke an Emma is running laps up and down the hallway together, yelling "monkey, set, go!" That usually is followed by an extended round of dancing and singing "Elmo's World." Sure, they get wound up and going to bed ends up taking more than an hour, but they are learning that exercise IS fun. We hope that's something they always believe.