Paula Milligan, center, works out with her daughters Jacqlynn, left, and Ella, right, at Hammerbodies with Ryan Page.

By Bryan Schraier

It’s a common sentiment: You want to be healthy and you want your children to be healthy. If this is how so many parents feel, why is the solution often to merely watch the kids play, then workout alone? Exercising with your children provides benefits outside the realm of fitness. While physical health is an obvious perk, local fitness professionals say the additional rewards can range from bonding to decreased stress—even lifelong habits.

“It explains to them that it is just like any other preventive medicine,” says Marcia Wever, owner of the Movement Center and St. Louis City Fitness, of working out with your children. “It’s something that can be built into your routine, like brushing your teeth.”

Dale Huff, co-owner of Nutriformance, says, “Creating habits for a lifetime is really what it’s all about.” Huff recommends children stay focused on “performance-based goals” (such as making a team or becoming better at an activity) as opposed to appearance-focused fitness. “Make it playful and get involved. Be an active role model,” says Huff, who noted his interest in fitness starting young because of his father.

For families looking to workout together, an entire gym system need not be bought, says Wever. She recommends the TRX suspension training system, which allows one to use his or her own body weight to train—a practice she recommends for children's first weight-training. Other affordable home items include weight balls, balance balls and—for the ‘wired’ family—video game workout systems. Wever says both the Wii and the Kinect for Xbox offer fitness routines that are beneficial and entertaining for children and parents alike. “Kids tend to have a lifelong habit if they’re led by example,” says Wever, stressing that it is important to be as involved in fitness games and activities as the children.

Much like Wever, Mike Tallis, owner of the Snap Fitness branch in Clayton, mentions that fitness video games can be beneficial. He says that while getting outside is best, using a Wii Fit or Kinect can be just as helpful simply because it “requires you to move.” Kids and adults can burn calories, increase metabolism and the like, while playing a fun, competitive game at home.

Once the weather allows it, Tallis recommends going back outside. Family-friendly activities like kickball, basketball, roller-skating, biking and hiking can be fun for a variety of age groups and offer opportunities for the parent to teach the child—now and later in life. “What your children see that you do is a pretty high percent of what they’ll do,” says Tallis, a father of two. He goes on to say that not only will children be more inclined to partake in fitness activities if grown-ups do the same, but that the cycle will continue when they become parents.

Outdoor fitness can even be contained to your backyard by creating a fun, game-like circuit for younger kids, Wever notes. Look in your garage to build an at-home 'gym' out of items like used racquets, old hula hoops, lone ski poles or spare landscaping bricks. Ski poles can be stuck into the ground to create obstacles to run around and racquets too broken for hitting tennis balls or birdies are still great for swinging. Hoops on the ground create great outlines for jumping in and out of, while bricks can be used to make petite hurdles.

If you think your family needs a more specific routine, Wever recommends calling a personal trainer. After a few sessions, Wever says you can “get something that you want to do, not something that you have to do.”

Ryan Page, personal trainer at Hammerbodies, also recommends speaking with a professional to assist with proper form and decrease chance of injury, especially when it comes to weight and resistance-training. “People think, My son or daughter shouldn’t lift weights, but as long as they can comprehend what they’re doing, it’s fine,” he explains. “If they can understand the movement and do it properly, all the research shows that they should do fine." Properly is one of the key words, as Page says he has worked with many teenagers who have developed bad fitness habits due to improper training—and like any bad habit, they can be tricky to correct.

Family fitness is not necessarily tied to the home. One of Page’s current clients is a mother who works out with her two daughters. Not only is this beneficial to the family relationships and general fitness, Page explains that exercise can lower stress in adolescents. Bottom line, he says: “I just want to make kids not be afraid of sweating.”

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