Fitness is a Family Affair

The new year comes with those all-too-familiar new year's resolutions. If you're like the average American, your resolution likely involves a goal related to your health--working out, losing weight, making smart food choices, etc. Also, like the average American, by  February your resolution will be added to the list of initiatives to begin again in 2018.  But, I aim to be above average, and so should you. I am claiming that 2017 will be my best year yet, and I am confident that you can have a successful year, too!

As a pageant contestant, we all choose a “platform” and advocate for a cause.  Often it is a passion based upon personal experiences. My platform has always been advocating physical activity to reduce obesity among this generation’s youth.   To this day, my commitment has not waned. How can it when the percentage of children with obesity ages 6–11 in the United States has increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012? Similarly, the percentage of adolescents with obesity ages 12–19 has increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period. The CDC reports that obesity now affects 1 in 6 of our children and adolescents.

That’s almost 3 times more obese youth than in 1980. So what’s changed?

One of my Miss Virginia appearances was a walk and bike to school day, which included teaching a 4th grade PE class using donated bicycles. I was shocked when half the children in a FOURTH GRADE class requested training wheels and another handful had never ridden a bike. How can bike riding be completely unfamiliar to so many kids? Afterwards, one student shared how excited he was to just try it, and expressed it was fun!  That’s right--he thought that exercise was fun and said he would start walking to school.  It’s not our children’s fault that they enjoy sitting on the couch with their iPads more than going outside, riding bikes or shooting hoops.  The reality is that they just have not been exposed to the same experiences.

In order to truly affect change, parents must lead by modeling positive behavior.  Your actions impact your kids.  As a child, my mother got up every morning and Jazzercised.   Like every young girl, I wanted to be just like my mother.  I got up early with her and danced with the women wearing neon purple tights and pink leotards “tightening and toning” their bodies on TV.  To this day, I can still recite the words. I loved it because my mom loved it. By the age of 3, I had fallen in love with exercise and still enjoy the experience of doing Jazzercise with my mother—minus the leotard and leg warmers, of course.

My mother, aunt, sister (from L to R) and me after completing the  Shamrock 8k  in Virginia Beach.

My mother, aunt, sister (from L to R) and me after completing the Shamrock 8k in Virginia Beach.

But the change doesn’t only happen at home.  Schools and communities play a role.  Do we rely too much on organized sport to do the teaching?  Not all children are athletic by nature.  It’s important to promote and make community investments so other forms of physical fitness are readily available. There is no right or wrong way to exercise.  Going to the park to hike, biking, or visiting a community center to play, swim or dance are all great alternatives.  Just going for a walk may eventually lead to a run!

That’s why I am so proud to be a part of the Newport News One City Marathon.  Now in its [third] year, one of the goals is to promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Marathon weekend is full of family activities that do just that!  The Health & Wellness Expo, Family Fun & Fit Day, Volunteering or Cheering and the four race events offer something for everyone. The Nautical Mile Family Fun Run, is one of the best examples of community support and family participation. Supported by Newport News Youth Programs, Marathon Mania, provides a chance for children to READ and RUN to the finish line.

Promoting a healthy mind and body, the goal is to train like a marathoner: children read 26 books and complete 25 weeks of physical activity.  Marathon Mania culminates at the One City Marathon, walking or running that final Nautical Mile. NN Public Libraries donate the books, and the Marathon supports participants with a free registration if they complete the “training”.  This year 500 children will reach their goal and be on the start line [March 12th]. The results are in! Kids, families and the Youth Programs staff are getting more physical activity and reading more too!

We know for a child, a healthy lifestyle begins at home--just like it did for me.  It needs reinforcement in the schools and community investment in awesome parks, community centers, after school programs -- even marathons. The City of Newport News does all of this!

But whether or not you live in the City of Newport News, the change starts with YOU! As a mother, friend, brother, cousin, co-worker, neighbor, etc., your actions affect those around you.  You should not underestimate the influence you have within each of your roles.  Your lifestyle--in some way--affects your neighbors.  Your choices influence your children.  Your actions affect your friends.  Habits, albeit good or bad, are contagious; and, a person is  often the product of his or her surroundings. 

So if you get up and go walking every morning, encourage a neighbor to join you.  If your headed to the gym, drag a friends along.  Or even if you go alone, find an accountability partner. I have a friend who lives hundreds of miles away, but each morning we call one another to ensure we are up and headed to the gym! I don't always feel like going, but having a partner in crime (and another person to celebrate my successes) makes all the difference.

So here's to 2017! May 2017 be the year that your new year's resolution becomes a lifestyle change!

Updated from the original version published in the Daily Press on 2/21/16