We all know that regular exercise is good for our health – it almost seems pointless to mention it these days! But I am going to mention it because I think it is important to establish what ‘healthy’ actually means. Contrary to what we are led to believe by mainstream media, social media and the fitness industry, health cannot be quantified by how thin a person is or by how perfectly round their butt is.
Health is not about what you look like and it is not about pushing your body to the point of failure every day. True health is about how you feel – mentally as well as physically. It is about whether you feel strong enough, energised enough, and nourished enough to live your life to the fullest. I believe that if we want our children to grow up truly healthy and comfortable in their bodies, we first need to be honest with ourselves about the true meaning of health. It goes without saying that there are many factors involved in keeping our bodies and minds healthy but, for now, I want to focus on exercise.
Children love to move. For them, it is not about working out, getting thinner or about improving their health – they move because … well, why wouldn’t they? It’s the natural thing to do. But all too often, we see this love for movement become stifled as children grow into teenagers and then into adults.
Somehow, by the time we reach adulthood, the vast majority of us have developed negative attitudes towards exercise. Yes, even many of those who actually continue to participate in regular sports or exercise throughout their lives will harbour certain unhealthy attitudes towards physical activity. But it doesn’t have to be like this. One of the many things I would like to achieve via the Can-do Kids platform is to show everyone, adults and children alike, that exercise is and always should be a happy, natural and positive thing.
Regular exercise is essential to maintaining a happy and healthy mind and body but that doesn’t mean you have to slog it out at the gym five times a week or drag yourself out for long, draining runs that make your legs hurt so much you can barely walk for a week afterwards. It can mean those things if that’s what makes you and your body happy, but it doesn’t have to.
No matter what the fitness industry may have you believe, just like in all areas of life, there is no one-size-fits all workout. For the record, I worked for many years as a fitness instructor and personal trainer and yes, the science does tell us that if you exercise in a certain way and follow certain routines and rules, you will get certain results. That’s true, but what I am challenging here is whether we are chasing the right ‘results’ in the first place. I would like to say that I am enlightened and rational enough to be unaffected by society’s endless obsession with the perfect body but, having spent a lifetime immersed in the dance and fitness worlds, I am sad to say I have been just as affected as anyone. But that doesn’t mean my children have to be. I do not want them or any other children to grow up believing that beauty, rippling muscles, and relentless physical training equate to health, or even worse, self-worth. Some of those things may come as a result of a truly healthy lifestyle but they should certainly not be the end goal.
It’s time to change the message, and this is where you as a parent, guardian, carer, teacher, grand-parent, aunt, friend of the family can make a difference by leading by example: exercise in front of your children and with your children and show them that you are choosing to exercise because you want to; because it makes you feel good. No more moaning because you ‘should’ go for a run but you really don’t want to; no more outward declarations of guilt because you missed a workout…or two or three; no more huffing and sighing because you are about to force yourself to do an exercise session you really, really don’t want to do.
Instead, move in a way that makes you feel happy and let your children see you enjoying that without complaints, excuses or guilt. It doesn’t matter if the latest fitness guru you are following on YouTube wouldn’t approve, and it certainly doesn’t matter if it is not the kind of exercise that will give you a six pack like … I don’t know …. Which celebrities flaunt six pack these days?! What matters is that you are moving and enjoying moving, and that your children can see this. And if they ask to join in, let them. You can even let your children run the workouts occasionally. Some of the most tiring exercise sessions I have ever done have been led by my children. Children are ‘hard core’!
If you love getting outside in the open air and going for long, rambling walks, go for it. If you have always dreamed of becoming a black belt in jiu jitsu, sign up for classes and get started. If you would rather run around the house screeching like a dragon and jumping on beds for half an hour with your four-year-old, embrace that. (I, of course, have never done such a thing because that would be ridiculous, but I hear that it is one of the hardest workouts you’ll ever experience!)
Once you stop thinking of exercise as a chore – as something you ‘should’ do because people tell you it is good for you – and just start to move because it feels good, you’ll be winning. The drive and motivation for more intense fitness and strength training might come once you find the type of exercise that makes you happy. Or it might not. Either way, so long as you are moving your body and enjoying it, who cares?
This is the new message. This is the mindset we need to pass on to future generations: that exercise is a fun and natural part of life and that it is also something to be appreciated and thankful for. Children already know this instinctively: they love to jump and run and roll around on the floor waving their legs in the air whenever the urge takes them. Let’s help them hold onto that natural appreciation for their own physicality. Let’s throw the exercise rules out of the window, get rid of the ‘shoulds’ and the guilt, and let’s start moving just for the joy of it. You never know what might happen if you do.
If you’ve enjoyed this article and have ideas or stories about how to get this message out there, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to browse the Can-do Kids website and follow us on Instagram for health and fitness ideas to share with your kids. If you are after a fun workout to do with your kids right now, head over to the Active Kids page and download your free Secret Circuit.