THE BLOG

Why Americans Need to Rethink Family Time

The coolest set of wheels I've ever owned was the Huffy bike I got in second grade. It had a sparkly banana seat and high handlebars with streamers that spun wildly as I rode. And ride I did, every day, for miles around our neighborhood. If I wasn't riding my bike, I'd be running wild with a group of neighborhood kids, playing epic games of freeze tag that only ended when the light disappeared. Play, for me, was always active; relaxation meant reading a book or watching TV (sharply limited by my parents, who thought the "boob tube" rotted kids' brains).

For my daughters (ages 18 and 11), play is very different. Put bluntly, screens rule. While they are both fitness focused (the older is a dancer; the younger does gymnastics and soccer), it's safe to say that their active play takes up less time than Minecraft or watching bad rom-coms.

Just writing these words makes Mom Guilt descend on me like a black cloud. Why didn't my husband and I incorporate more active play into our family life? As regular runners, we certainly model good exercise behavior. Blame the pressures of life in a two-working-parent family, blame the seduction of technology, blame...ugh, I need to stop blaming.

It turns out my family is hardly unique. In conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Woman's Day conducted a survey of 1,154 moms on their kids' physical activity levels. The key findings:

• When mothers spend 10 minutes or more doing something with their children, it is more likely to be sedentary or involve a screen than be physical.

• The top three activities mothers and children do together are eating a meal (90%), watching television (79%), and doing homework (65%).

• Only half of the moms surveyed had gone out together for a walk, run, or bike ride with their kids (ages 5 to 18) in the last week and just 26% had played a sport, run around or danced together.

While it's terrific that moms have gotten the message about the importance of eating together, the exercise part is suffering. With so many demands on families' time, fitness has dropped off the list. But it needs to be prioritized, and here's why: Being active can help lower the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In fact, a new review in Pediatrics shows that overweight children who are involved in exercise programs that get the heart rate up (think dancing, swimming or playing soccer) for just six to 12 weeks quickly improve their cardiovascular health, an important finding considering that more and more research points to the scary fact that heart disease may start to develop in childhood.

Fortunately, just a little more activity can make a difference. To get started, visit commit2ten.org, and make a pledge to add 10 minutes of movement to your day. Go for a walk after dinner (my family's new favorite activity). Turn your backyard into an obstacle course. Teach your kids the lost art of freeze tag. You'll not only get a workout as a family, you'll achieve a lovely togetherness that doesn't happen when you're huddled around a screen.