For just a minute, let’s pretend that we treat eating the same way we treat physical activity. After all, kids need 60 minutes of physical activity every day just like they need to eat. This game is funny because it shows how easily we make excuses to get out of exercise.
For example, have you ever skipped a workout because the weather was bad? Now imagine telling your kids, “We’ll eat tomorrow when the sun comes back out.”
Or maybe you didn’t exercise because you didn’t have enough time to do a full workout. For food, that would be like saying, “I don’t have enough time to cook this recipe, we’ll skip eating today and eat more tomorrow.”
And this one is my favorite: for kids who don’t want to run because they aren’t fast, in terms of eating, it’s like saying, “They don’t want dinner because they aren’t a food critic.”
Physical activity isn’t just for athletes—it’s for everyone—just like eating isn’t just for food critics.
When we put it in that context, we can also let go of a lot of pressures and stipulations that lead to excuses. You don’t have to follow a formal workout regimen or compete. You only need to be active!
And the benefits of simply being active are huge!
Exercise does so much more than manage weight and build muscles. Kids who get plenty of exercise have stronger hearts, lungs and bones. Exercise helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, decreases the likelihood of cancer and increases emotional well-being. And when kids develop good exercise habits, they are more likely to be active as adults too.
Each and every bit of activity should be celebrated. All a kid really needs is to be active every day and that is good enough. Getting enough physical activity is not about being really good at sports, you just need to create the habit of moving.
As the CEO of Marathon Kids, a non-profit that helps schools, communities and families get moving, I get to brag about all our kids that walk or run four marathons. At the end of our program, it looks really impressive, 104.8 miles! This might seem intimidating at first, but it is totally attainable if you do a few simple things.
Our program is built on six pillars and if you adopt these into your family, you’ll be impressed with how easy it is to drop the excuses and be an active family.
1. Set (Really) Short & Long Term Goals
Setting a goal is great. Setting a lot of goals is even better. We start with the the long-term goal of running or walking 104.8 miles. Then we break it down into the four marathons and then into quarter mile increments. Then we make goals of how often we run or walk. Before you know it, you have something to celebrate every day, which is a big motivator.
2. Track Every Bit of Progress
If you walk, it counts. If you run, it counts. And even if you ride your bike, it counts. The point is to move, so we don’t disqualify types of movement. It’s all progress.
You want to make sure you are tracking even the smallest amount of progress. If you are super busy and only manage a fourth of a mile, that still counts! When you track each bit of progress, it shows kids that every step counts.
3. Find Social Circle of Support
We’re social creatures. If you can build a community of people who are all working towards the same goal, even if it’s just your family, it makes it a lot easier to achieve.
4. Model the Way
Kids and especially young kids, will mimic their parents. If they see that you make physical activity a priority, they are more likely to make it a priority. This is one of the main reasons we started the Marathon Kids at Home program. MKAH is for parents and kids who want to reach 104.8 miles together.
5. Reward Milestones
Incentives help a lot. We partnered with Nike and reward Marathon Kids with exclusive gear when they complete each marathon. You can also get these rewards if you sign up for the MKAH program, but any kind of prize will work.
6. Celebrate Each & Every Win
Plan to celebrate each and every win. Make an event of it! It’s one thing to receive a reward, it’s another to revel in the experience of reaching your goals.
Of course, you can plan a big party to celebrate running 104.8 miles, but don’t forget to celebrate the small wins too. If your kid is having a tough day, you celebrate that they pushed through it. High fives and a “Good job!” are great for small wins along the way.