Including Kids in Exercise (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Diane Jorgensen about her efforts to be a more fit person–and include her young daughter in the process.  Thanks for sharing your story, Diane!

I’m a plus size middle-aged mother. Every day I work on the correct balance between work, personal commitments, family relationships and of course, parenting. That often leaves little room for self care. And yet, I know by personal experience how important it is to take care of myself, especially with exercise or even simply focusing on increasing my physical activity day to day. When I add spending quality time with my daughter to needing time to exercise often the best solution is to combine the two. In addition, knowing my little one has half of my genes is added incentive for me to keep her active and instill in her an appreciation of physical activities.

I look at physical activity for Punkin and me in three categories: there are my activities, her activities, and then those things that we can enjoy together. When I am in the final stages of training for my now 2nd annual triathlon and I need to get a 15 mile bike ride in, I have to schedule it during a time when she is happily occupied with my partner or with other family or friends. Most of the year, however, there are many things we can do together, and I can include her in my workouts at least once or twice a week.

Our most enjoyable activity to do together is to bike ride. She loves it, and I enjoy her company. I don’t go as fast as I do on other rides and she can’t tolerate a very long ride, but we both enjoy the rides, the fresh air, and our time together.

When she was a toddler we bought a bike tutor bike seat on-line. It’s a little saddle that attached to my bike between my bike seat and the handle bars. She wore a belt that attached to the saddle for safety. The saddle also had some foot rests on it. The Bike Tutor came with a separate U shaped bar that attached to my bike to become her  handle bar. The many rides we took on the bike tutor will forever be cherished moments for me. She was comfortably seated directly in front of me, and the entire ride we were close, almost in a hug, with her back to my front. I was able to hear her and whisper in her ear. Her view was very similar to mine, and we could talk about the all the wondrous sights along the way.

Now, three years later, she has outgrown the bike tutor and graduated to a tag-along. This is a half bike that has a long pole in front. The pole attaches to the post of my bike seat, making “our bike” a three wheel, two rider contraption. Our rides together continue to be fun and exciting, though they are more separate experiences as it is difficult to talk to each other and she has to look around me to see ahead of us.

I also do a lot of walking. Most weekends I plan to do an easy 1.5 mile leisure walk. Several times she has accompanied me on this walk. I let her bring a doll and we bring her backpack for her to carry it when she inevitably gets tired of holding her baby. I make a point to have it a type of nature hike, discussing the various trees and other fauna that line the trail. She generally enjoys the walks, though she does need to stop once to rest her legs.

When Punkin wants to be included in my other workouts, I try to  do my best to accommodate her. I’ll take her to the Y with me so she can be in the child care program and I answer her questions about what I was doing on exactly which machine on the way out. One time at home I was doing my kettle bell work out and she wanted to do it, too. I set her up with a blanket to mimic my workout matt and we used some weightless toys as her kettle bell weights. She lifted in tandem with me, groaning appropriately and making comments throughout about how well we were both doing and how strong we are. It was a little distracting and very entertaining!

Other “exercise” we enjoy together:

  • Playing Wii Fit games as a family
  • Taking her swimming as much as possible
  • Helping her master skills on the playground
  • Going snow tubing as a family a few times a year

We also have Punkin in her own activities:

  • Dance – She has chosen to take dance classes at a local studio, but I also look at is as a way for her to fight against any ungraceful genes of mine that could try to manifest themselves as she grows into an adult body.
  • Swim – This is more so that she can learn to swim than to have her be physically active, but it definitely keeps her limbs in motion and tires her out. Personally, I believe all children need to know how to swim for their own safety. To me it is a necessary life skill.

For my part, I am committed to taking her to both dance class and swim lessons weekly and I watch her in both, praising her on her progress and on her accomplishments.

In the future I expect we’ll continue to adjust how we are physically active together. It won’t be too many more years and she can ride her bike while I walk or jog alongside her. This summer I enjoyed watching a happy little girl, a few years older than Punkin, bike on the bike path around Lake Harriet, beaming at her father who was jogging next to her on the separate pedestrian path. I hope to do that with Punkin in a few summers. And, as we progress to that state and beyond, who knows, maybe rather than her just cheering me on at the transitions and the finish line of the triathlon, we’ll cross together.

In addition to being a mom, Diane is a social worker in Minneapolis.  In the interest of full disclosure, she is my step-mother-in-law, and Punkin is my five-year-old sister-in-law.  :)  Families who want to be more active together may also be interested in my post about the 5k I ran last year (and books to get kids moving) or this post about the joy of riding bike.

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