family · running

Families and fitness

I hear lots of parents complain that they don’t have time to exercise but by and large my kids have been a force for good in my fitness adventures.

When they were little we discovered the Y’s drop in childcare and that was perfect for attending a group fitness class. After we’d swim together at the family swim. Later when they did swimming lessons of their own we’d use that time to work out. I would see other academics in the Y’s waiting area grading papers but that was never my approach. I’m not sure why exactly but I always felt that if my kids were being active, then that’s what I ought to be doing too.

We’ve always been an outdoorsy family. My daughter went camping and hiking (in a backpack of course) for the first time when she was just 2 months old. Since then we’ve spent a lot of time together as a family hiking, biking, swimming, paddling, and camping.

My children grew up seeing their parents as active. We both rode bikes and pulled them in the trailer. ‘Go faster mum!’ I felt so fast on the weekend when I unhitched the 2 child, max load 100 lb trailer. Whee! Weekends were for hikes in the woods. London is a terrific city for family friendly trails. And as they’ve grown up, each with their own interests and agendas, physical activity has been a big part of my relationship with my children.

My daughter, now 20, and I have vacationed together twice on cycling holidays, once in Quebec on the rail trail, “Le P’tit Train du Nord” and once in New Zealand on The Central Otago Rail Trail. Love rail trail holidays and strongly recommend them to people who want an active holiday and like the idea of being in nature, away from cars. It’s so safe and relaxing. We camped when we did the Quebec rail trail but it’s in ski country and there’s loads of bed and breakfasts. They’ve even turned the old railway stations into coffee shops and bike stores. No shortage of espresso and ice cream on that rail trail.

My daughter and I also do Aikido together. (It started as something all the kids did. You can read about that here.) Next summer we hope to complete the Kincardine Women’s Triathalon together too. In years past we did it as a relay: me on the bike, my daughter on the swim, and my sister in law on the run. See photo below.

The daughter is a keen outdoor adventurer and I look forward to more active vacations together. Latest scheme: Hiking in England.

My youngest is the biggest team sports person in our family, playing rugby, football, and basketball at a fairly competitive level. I don’t think he’s met a team sport that he hasn’t liked. I love it that he encourages me to take up women’s rugby and basketball.

He’s also my everyday gym companion, a fellow early riser. We head out at 6 am most mornings and then when done, I drive him to school for 8 am. When he has rugby practice I take my bike out to the field and usually get in a good 50 km on the country roads near the club while he practices. (My rule is I watch games but not practices.)

I once asked if he minded the ‘mum in lycra with road bike’ appearing at the rugby field and offered to keep my distance. I was so proud of his answer. He said he thought the mums in lawn chairs reading fashion mags were more embarrassing but really he thinks I ought to be playing rugby with the women.

My middle child is the best dog hike companion. We’ve taken dance classes together too. His interests are the hardest for me to share. He’s a terrific dancer, ballet, jazz and modern. He also roller blades rather than bikes. And he loves rock climbing.

I think the people who struggle but who can’t manage to fit it all in are exercise compartmentalizers who think of working out as something extra you do, one more thing that happens after kids go to bed or with a babysitter helping out, not something you do with children. (I explain the distinction between integrationists and compartentalizers here.) In our case physical activity is a big part of the fabric of our family life and I can’t imagine it any other way.

The above photo was taken about 10 years ago, during my literal run up to 40. It was the Santa Shuffle, kids did the mini event (.5 km, I think) and adults did the 5 km. Fun! The photo below is from the Kincardine Women’s triathalon.


7 thoughts on “Families and fitness

  1. What a great answer from Youngest about your rugby-time cycling! This is something that’s always bugged me about the hockey scene. Hockey parents spend a lot of hours — in many cases, 12-15 per week — just standing around in hockey rinks. The chatting can be pleasant; and all that time is in some sense a laudable commitment to their kids’ physical activity. But these folks often say (to me, at least) that they don’t have time in their busy schedules to exercise. And I think they are modeling the attitude that exercise is for the young, by driving to rinks and standing around while the kids play.

    Partly this is because ice rinks have long been grotty old barns, in which standing around was about the most one could comfortably hope to do if not actually playing hockey. A newer generation of hockey rinks has them included in community centres that also feature walking tracks, fitness rooms, and swimming pools for general use. It would help if there could be special memberships and facilities devoted specifically to the hockey parent with 45 free minutes several times per week, perhaps in several different rinks within a region. But we also need the social attitudes that make it more permissible for sports parents to show up intending to use these facilities — at least during practices or warm-ups to games. Good on you for helping blaze that trail.

    1. Soccer seems a bit better. I play in a couple of recreational leagues and most of the women learned the rules and started playing through their kids. Love watching the kids cheer the mums on. Sometimes they’re so funny shouting at the referees on behalf of their mothers.

      Martial arts is a bit the same. In our aikido club lots of adults start after watching the kids class for awhile and seeing how fun it is.

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