Make family fitness fun this festive season

Whether there is one person or a few in a family who have diabetes, this may affect lifestyle habits and choices of the family. Wendy Vermaak informs us how to make family fitness fun.

Now that we are nearing a time of holiday or rest and recuperation from a tough 2020, the lifestyle habits of a family (as opposed to just those of each individual) become more evident. This is because when everyone in the family spends so much concentrated time together without the usual commitments of work and school, the choice of meals, leisure and activity times and family fitness must take the whole family into account.

Each generation teaches and guides the younger generations of which lifestyle choices are healthy and important. This follows through from where you decide to go on holiday, what meals you eat, how you plan your leisure or relaxation time and budget, and what physical activity you engage in, and so on.

Children learn from example

Research shows that children learn lifestyle habits from an early age, and that by a mere nine years old, they already have an established idea of what lifestyle habits are perceived to be the ‘norm’.

This is based mostly on their limited exposure to what their own family has taught them, as opposed to have experienced what other family’s lifestyles are like. Children learn by example from their parents and grandparents’ behaviour. Modelling a good example of healthy lifestyle habits entails regularly engaging in:

  • Regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Refraining from alcohol, drugs and smoking
  • Drinking enough water
  • Good hygiene
  • Getting enough quality sleep

Children learn from what they see, and parents choosing healthy lifestyle habits as a regular and continual choice day by day, as opposed to merely lecturing your children, has a much bigger impact on their learning response to healthy lifestyle habits.

What type of family is yours?

Choices that affect our families are whether you are the type of family who always goes away over holidays to rest, or decides to stay home.

Is your family avid campers? Adventure holiday seekers? Hotel or resort guests, or rather road trippers? Often your choices of where you go on holiday also affects what food choices you make and the physical activity level you choose to engage in.  

Whatever the choice, families have an opportunity to be physically active anywhere or anytime. Exercising should not be a mere chore to get through, or something to try to fit in when one finds the time.

As early as 1819, Edward Stanley wrote: “He who has not time for exercise, must create time for illness.” This lifestyle choice stands for every person of every age, and what better way to institute this healthy standard in your family than over the festive season break when families are often all together?

Use movement to develop relationships

Exercising together as a family is a great way to use movement to develop relationships and spend quality time together. Movement is an essential part of everyday life, for people of all ages. Movement affects development, learning, communicating, work capacity, health, and quality of life. Exercising together promotes open communication, and the feel-good endorphins promote good family relations as well. Encourage less screen time and more physical outings or games or sports as a family.

Exercise – the most underutilised medicine

Research shows that for those who are sedentary more than seven hours a day are 47% more at risk of developing depression than those who sit for four or fewer hours a day.

Women who don’t exercise at all have a 99% increased risk of experiencing depressive symptoms compared with those who exercise regularly.

Physical activity helps beat stress and prevents or treats many other health concerns and diseases. It is considered the most underutilised medicine and has the least amount of side effects as opposed to most medication.

Physical activity, whilst being fun, can have positive impacts on health, such as decrease dementia risk by 30% which is a specific concern for the elderly, and physical fitness levels improve cognitive performance (e.g. concentration, memory) for children and adults alike.

Exercise reduces the risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer by 20% and colon cancer by 35%. It can decrease cardiovascular disease risk by 35% and Type 2 diabetes risk by up to 40%. More than 150 minutes of exercise each week is associated with a 0,89% drop in HbA1c.

One of the major benefits of having family as exercise buddies is that they are excellent accountability partners.

How to make family fitness fun

  • Put music on and have a dance contest.
  • Walk the dogs as a family.
  • Go on a hike in your area.
  • Turn a board game into an active game.
  • Play a game of cricket, touch rugby, or any sport in your back yard.
  • Complete an exercise routine in the garden/on the beach.
  • Build a sandcastle.
  • Ride your bike (or hire one for a cycle outing).
  • Participate in an online challenge.
  • Try a new skill that’s physically demanding, such as rock-climbing, or a dance class, or an aqua class.
  • Work as a team to complete physical tasks in and around the house, such as mowing the lawn, washing the car, cleaning the windows, mopping the floors, etc.
  • Incorporate exercise into your outings, such as visiting a zoo or street market where you can walk around a lot.

Before you start your family fitness, it’s always best to:

  1. Get the go-ahead from your doctor and to discuss possible medication changes.
  2. Consult with a biokineticist to discuss a suitable exercise programme to minimise any complications. Biokineticists are trained in monitoring blood glucose levels and effects of exercise on insulin, required nutrition, and specific exercise prescription for each patient noting their level of fitness, medication, and disease profile. Find a biokineticist near you
  3. Use the right gear. Wear well-fitting, cool clothing and the right footwear to look after your feet. Also inspect your feet often to check for blisters, cuts and injuries. If you suffer from foot problems, avoid weight-bearing exercises and opt for cycling or swimming.
  4. Wear your medical alert bracelet or other identification when you exercise. The info should include your name, address, doctor’s details and phone number. If possible it should also include your medicine details.
  5. Inform the person you are exercising with that you have diabetes or any other major health conditions, whether it be a coach of any organised sports team, team players, friends or family. Explain to them how to respond if you should have a hypoglycaemic episode.
  6. Monitor your blood glucose before and after exercising and refrain from exercise if you are feeling ill.

Be aware of symptoms of hyperglycaemia (extreme thirst, hunger and urinations, blurred vision, fatigue) and hypoglycaemia (hunger, shaking, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness and weakness)

Written by Wendy Vermaak on behalf of the Biokinetics Association of South Africa.

Wendy Vermaak is a biokineticist in private practice in Johannesburg, Gauteng. She has a keen interest in falls prevention and balance rehabilitation, and is also the marketing director for Biokinetics Association of South Africa (BASA).

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