- Perspective by Bahram Akradi -

Fitness Hits Home

Some of the most powerful messages we see and hear about fitness today (the ones that reach us through mass media) would seem to suggest that fitness is the domain of the young, the super-buff and, above all, the single.

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Nothing could be further from the truth. This July, during the Life Time Fitness Triathlon (see “LTF Triathlon Report: Try, Tri Again“), we saw once again that fitness comes in all ages, shapes and sizes. And judging from the number of excited kids I saw at the finish line cheering on their moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas, it seems evident that having a family need not be a barrier to staying fit. Nor is having a family in any way a disincentive to staying fit.

If anything, being partners and parents gives us even more reason to make health and fitness a top priority. Sure, fitness can be seductive, and certainly, sex appeal is a lot of what sells fitness these days. But fitness is really about so much more — including health, fun, energy, confidence, discovery, stress relief and life balance. I would argue that all of these things are essential to a good home and family life, and they are particularly important characteristics to encourage in our kids.

A national survey by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association suggests that in recent decades, young adults have become more likely to credit parents as sports or fitness role models. The study of 662 men and women age 18 to 34 revealed that the younger the age group, the more likely the participants were to cite their parents as role models in inspiring them to be involved in sports or fitness. Specifically, of those age 30 to 34, 43 percent named their parents as fitness role models. Of those age 25 to 29, 51 percent did. Among those age 18 to 24, meanwhile, the percentage grew to 63 percent. Overall, only 5 percent named a celebrity athlete as a significant fitness role model.

The obvious conclusion from this 1999 survey is that parents have become an increasingly important source of fitness inspiration, and I expect that trend has only grown in recent years. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. Many parents, alarmed by the trends in childhood obesity, are realizing that they have to take a more active and personal role in building fitness into their family’s lives. On the other hand, it’s disconcerting that parents have never been more on their own with regard to developing their children’s fitness inclinations.

Since the early ’90s, access to daily school-based physical education and activity has dropped precipitously. Meanwhile, trends toward indoor entertainments have made it more challenging to get kids active during off-school hours. Research suggests that fewer than one in four kids gets 20 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

Clearly, as a society, we need to establish better health-and-fitness priorities. But in the meantime, it falls to parents to turn this situation around by integrating good nutrition and ample activity into their family’s lives. That means personally embodying the best fitness habits we can muster, and actively encouraging our kids to embrace values that will ensure them a healthier and happier future (for more on the family habits that matter most, see “Health: A Family Value“).

Within Life Time Fitness, more than 49 percent of our 413,000 member households include at least one child. I find that enormously encouraging, because it means there are a whole lot of parents out there taking care of themselves and setting a good fitness example for their kids. But whether you’re a household of one or a family of 15, it’s important to remember that the decision to be fit and healthy really begins at home. And it begins inside, where no one but you can see.

From the moment we wake up, to the moment we fall asleep, we each make choices that either respect our personal well-being or dismantle it. Whether or not you grew up with parents who were healthy role models, you can become a healthy role model yourself. And you can inspire others — including those you love — to do the same.

All the emphasis on fitness’s young and sexy image notwithstanding, it’s essential that we remember that looking great is really a side effect of vibrant personal health. I hope that this “Fit Family” issue inspires you to bring the consciousness of health and fitness home — for you, and if you have them, for your partner and kids.

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