One potato, two potato, three potato, four.
Kids won’t live as long as their parents did before.
This lighthearted chant conveys a serious message: today’s children may be the first generation to have poorer health and live shorter lives than their parents. High blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes and other life-threatening medical conditions-formerly found exclusively in adults and seniors-are byproducts of a startling statistic: one out of three children is overweight or obese.
This disturbing trend tells us that raising a child with a healthy body weight is getting tougher. It also makes intergenerational family fitness more crucial than ever, and grandparents have an important role to play. Besides good genes, the most important health legacy a grandparent can provide is the example of a healthful lifestyle.
When grandchildren visit, the focus needs to be on family fun, with fitness as a byproduct. Grandchildren will understand through example that they can watch a little television or spend a little time on the computer, but whenever they are with their grandparents, they keep moving and playing when the sun is shining.
Grandparents also have to recognize that most families lead busy lives. So when grandchildren do have free time to spend with grandparents, engaging in activities together should be the priority. Go for a walk, take pets for a jog or play catch. If there’s a playground nearby, find the swings and pump away.
Old-fashioned games, like hide-and-seek or kick-the-can, are still fun. Or learn a new game, like Pickle-Ball, a combination of Ping-Pong, badminton and tennis. The grandkids may initially complain, but they’ll quickly adapt to your lifestyle.
When you’re planning meals, choose from healthy options. Although it may be tempting to indulge grandchildren with sweets and treats, resist the impulse and respect their growing bodies’ nutritional needs (and their parents’ rules).
Given that most children don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you might also want to play interactive computer games that teach children what and how much to eat. According to healthcare professionals, “Early nutrition education is one of the best ways to help children learn about healthy choices and healthy eating.”
Feed your grandchildren home-cooked meals that include plenty of vegetables and fruits. Invite your grandchildren into the kitchen to help prepare food from kid-friendly recipes. Replace soft drinks and sports drinks with water or milk. Stock your kitchen and cupboard with your own healthy “fast food” (for example, bananas, apples, hard-boiled eggs, raisins and carrots).
Create memorable rituals by sitting down and eating together using silverware, napkins and good manners. Besides being wonderful opportunities to socialize, mealtimes also provide a teachable moment to reinforce concepts about portion size.
When you visit your grandchildren, learn about their interests and encourage their participation in activities that get them moving. Attend sporting or other events and cheer your grandchildren’s efforts. Buy each grandchild a pedometer and challenge all of them to a weekly contest. If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor exercise, invest in a Wii exergame and compete with your grandchildren. You can learn more about exergames, their benefits and growth by watching a slideshow here.
By focusing on fitness, grandparents can experience the joy of watching their grandchildren become healthy, active and productive adults. But to ensure this happy outcome, grandparents and parents must adopt healthy lifestyles. Fortunately enough, we’re never too old-or too young-to focus on fitness.
Five potato, six potato, seven potato, eight.
We need to help kids change before it is too late.
Dubbed “An Apostle for Fitness” by the Wall Street Journal, Carole Carson is the author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction and the coach for the 4,000-member AARP Fat 2 Fit online community.