My four-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, visits on weekends several times a year. Because I live on three acres atop Banner Mountain, we need only step outdoors to find ourselves in the woods. Once outside, we play hide-and-seek among the trees, we look for bird and squirrel nests high in the pines and we take walks on trails. A box filled with cigar-sized colored chalk turns our driveway in front of the house into an enormous palette. Working together, we string car after car on a train stretching the length of the 300-foot asphalt canvas. Or maybe we draw a hopscotch board and test our skills. Or maybe we jump rope.
The demands on my imagination and energy are not so great that I can’t keep the two of us fully occupied during a weekend. But what would I do if I were a young mother? How would I work fitness into our family’s lifestyle? As a grandmother, I don’t know the answer, so I turned to my friend, Elisa Parker, who is the young mother of two girls, Maya, 5, and Payton, 2. Her response provides lots of wonderful ideas.
Elisa Parker writes:
As a mom with young children, I have to be creative in how I maintain my fitness plan. Sustaining my routine requires being motivated, having support and thinking outside the box. Most important, as a role model for living and leading a healthy life, I try to incorporate flexibility, fun and good-eating habits for my children.
The Four-Season Fitness Plan: Develop a fitness routine that coincides with the seasons. During the summer, we love to participate in family swim time at the local pool or the nearby river, plan a ladybug picnic, take nature walks and explore what’s in season—wildflowers, bugs, rocks, salamanders or fall colors.
Mommy-and-Me Time: Participate in fitness activities together. Various programs now provide classes such as tumbling, dance and yoga for parents and their children.
Two Wheels Are Better Than One: Bike seats, extensions and trailers make family bike rides enjoyable and accessible for everyone. One of our favorite family activities includes riding our bikes along the Truckee River to Lake Tahoe for lunch on the beach.
Walk off the Weight: Join or start a walking group. Walking is one of the best exercises for anyone but particularly perfect for moms with young children. Strollers and baby carriers provide extra weight to work off the pounds and make it easy to bring your little one along. Jogging strollers aren’t just for jogging; they are suitable for off-road trails too. Parents in urban areas can check out local parks or walk inside at the local mall on rainy days. (You can always bribe your child with a balloon or carousel ride afterward.) Tap into family networks and community centers to learn more about local social activities.
Jump into Action: The latest rave for kids and parents is inflatable bouncy house venues. Warehouses transform into inflatable playgrounds.
Mom versus the Wild: Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite outdoor activities. True, you must be patient, and your backpacking treks might need to be scaled down from a six-mile hike to a one-mile adventure. But you can adapt your activities to work with your entire family. For example, cross-country skiers can pull their young children on a customized sled, and gear junkies can find anything from baby backpacks to all-terrain strollers. Friends and I are looking forward to taking our families on a short backpacking trip this summer with llamas to carry the weight!
Think outside the Box: In our house, the television is off during the day. We encourage play and outdoor activities. Think about ways to be a model for fitness and health to your children.
Find Time for Yourself: Coordinate with caregivers, grandparents, your spouse, or friends to watch your children so you can participate in a fitness activity that feeds your soul. My special treat is a weekly yoga class with my friends. Most health clubs provide childcare, which makes it easier to schedule an hour or two of exercise. My friends and I bring our kids to our Jazzercise class. Find friends who will encourage and motivate you to get fit together.
How Does Your Garden Grow? We planted our first veggie garden with the kids last summer. Planting and maintaining the garden provided good exercise and the kids took part in creating something and enjoying the yummy benefits. Encourage the kids to pick out their own starters or develop their own section of the garden. Visit a farmers’ market to encourage healthy eating and support local growers.
Dance as If No One Is Watching: What better excuse to act silly and move to music than to dance with your children? My daughters and I love moving together at our parent-child music class. It’s often more aerobic than my Jazzercise class! Our family also attends music festivals appropriate for children during the summer and enjoys dancing the night away—creating memories we will never forget.
Elisa’s suggestions will be great to review when I run out of ideas about what to play next with Isabelle. If you have more suggestions, I’d like to hear them.
Twice I read the article "Inside Drugmakers’ War on Fat" (BusinessWeek, March 17, 2008, and I may well read it a third time. The article was informative, well written and troubling.
Arlene Weintraub, senior writer, reports on the intensely competitive race by pharmaceutical companies to find an effective, safe weight-loss drug. The stakes are high: the winner has a chance to gain the lion’s share of $33 billion currently spent each year in the United States on diet programs, herbal products and other chemical solutions. The potential global market is over twice that much—$70 billion.
Eager to reduce costs associated with medical problems and absenteeism, employers are watching these developments as well. Eric Finkelstein, author of The Fattening of America, estimates that an overweight male costs an employer $170 more each year than a normal-weight male. For an overweight woman, the increased cost is nearly $500. Employers are gaining support from the courts and the U.S. Department of Labor in their efforts to force employees to maintain a healthy weight and quit unhealthy habits such as smoking—or risk being fired.
After I read Ms. Weintraub’s article, I found it easy to imagine what the future holds: we are only a few years away from developing magic pills that help us shed pounds. Certainly, an effective weight-loss drug could help individuals facing medical issues resulting from obesity, and perhaps weighing less would give some individuals the confidence to start moving again.
On the downside, I can see many teenage girls looking like "lollipops," the derogatory term used to describe ultrathin models whose heads are wider than their torsos. Having access to such a drug might also disincentivize many from exercise since the desired thin look could be achieved chemically. Many of us would make the mistake of choosing a lesser goal—weight loss—at the expense of a more important goal—preserving and enhancing our health. It would simply be too easy and too tempting.
In light of advances in weight loss chemistry, I may be swimming upstream, but I'm going to continue to advocate getting fit the natural way: eating healthfully and exercising regularly with weight loss as a wonderful by-product.
What about you? Are you going to wait for the magic pill?
A smile does more than trigger a smile in return. Research reported in the December 2007 issue of Consumer Reports on Health suggests that the act of smiling triggers positive physiological changes. Interacting with another person in an engaging way through smiling and eye contact apparently reduces stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
If you don’t feel like smiling and must fake a smile and interest in the person you are talking to, will you still receive the benefits? The research didn’t answer this question, but it would seem reasonable to take a chance and smile at every opportunity.
And the wonderful part is that you don’t need others to smile. You can smile alone, just as I am right now and as I hope you are as you read this blog.
To count the steps I take each day in support of my exercise regimen, I wear a pedometer. Will someone please invent an equivalent device to count smiles? Because who knows, if I practice, smiling might become my favorite exercise!
What phenomenon does the term obesity paradox refer to?
1. The more you eat, the hungrier you get.
2. Forbidding oneself to eat a particular food triggers a craving for it.
3. The survival rate from heart attacks for persons who are overweight or obese is higher than the rate for persons of normal weight.
4. Chocolate brownies, even those hidden in the deepest recesses of the pantry, loudly speak your name as you pass by.
The answer is number 3. The term refers to the puzzling, counterintuitive results reported in the article “The Obesity Paradox” in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 165 No.1, January 10, 2005. In a study of nearly 8,000 patients with heart failure, researchers found that the survival rate for persons who were overweight or obese was higher than the rate for persons of normal weight. Further investigation is needed to understand the implications of the results.
Although it seems counterintuitive, my decision to shape up and lose weight may end up costing the U.S. government more than if I had stayed obese. I’m indebted to the February 5, 2008, National Public Radio broadcast of All Things Considered for this challenging insight.
The program discussed the results of a study in the Netherlands, which were summarized in the article “Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure,”reported in the Public Library of Science-Medicine on February 4, 2008.
Economist Pieter van Baal, who headed the study for the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, challenges the myth that reducing obesity will reduce medical costs. His study shows the opposite—decreased costs associated with obesity-related illnesses are offset by increased costs associated with a longer life span. Compared to the obese person, the trim and fit person lives an average of seven years longer. Persons who die prematurely through obesity-related illnesses inadvertently end up saving the government money.
Although I initially found the premise startling, I think it holds true in my case. When I began my fitness makeover at age 59, I was in the 90th percentile for risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. Had I continued on this path, I doubt I would be alive today. With the benefit of lifestyle changes, though, I lowered my risk in all three categories. Today I have a good chance of collecting social security for the next 30 years. My decision to lose weight will indeed cost the government more money than if I had died from an obesity-related medical condition.
There may be a lot of good reasons for getting fit, but it turns out saving money for the U.S. government may not be one of them.
I hasten to add, though, that my goal for living a long life has always been more personal. As I jokingly tell my children, I want to live long enough to come to their homes and behave the way they did growing up. I want to drink from the milk carton, leave my dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and stay up late playing loud music in my bedroom with the door locked. Now that’s a true incentive for losing weight and getting fit, right?
"One, a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws."