Walk Your Way to a Healthier Family

13 fun ways to get your clan moving with zero whining.

Make it a game
Pedometers are great motivators to increase your steps, and kid-friendly ones even more so. University of Waterloo research found that preteens were much more active with a Pikachu 2 pedometer that rewarded activity with games than when using a tool that only measured steps. Your ideal daily step goal? According to research by Catrine Tudor-Locke, an adjunct researcher with the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute in Ottawa, boys who walk 15,000 steps and girls who walk 12,000 steps a day are more likely to enjoy a healthy body weight. Boys tend to eat more calories than girls and so need a little more activity, says Tudor-Locke, author of Manpo-Kei: The Art and Science of Step Counting: How to Be Naturally Active and Lose Weight! (Trafford).

Learn while you walk
Ask the kids to find and write down one thing on your walk that begins with each letter of the alphabet, suggests Don Zabloski, a physical education consultant for public schools in Edmonton and a consultant for kids’ programs for retail chain The Running Room. This game makes the time fly. Walking bingo works, too, especially for kids who aren’t writing yet. Draw a number of items, such as a bird bath, a black dog, a purple bike and a pizza sign, on a bingo grid. The first one to get a line or a square wins!

Start ’em early
Scott Patten and Lea Elliott had always gone for walks
as a couple, and a few weeks after daughter Mika was born, they headed out for a stroll around their downtown Vancouver neighbourhood. They swear by Ergo’s comfy baby carrier, worn on Mom or Dad’s chest. “Mika was usually asleep before we got down the steps,” says Patten. During their par-ental leaves they walked twice a day or more, and now that their daughter is 14 months old, they walk after work. “Mika loves the carrier. She gets to wave at dogs and interact with people in our community.” Travellers, take note: Elliott adds that the carrier worked beautifully during a three-week trip around Italy, too.

Earn some bucks
For the past eight years, Yvonne, Al, Hali and Tyler Romas have delivered advertising flyers around their community. It takes between an hour and an hour and a half once a week, and they walk for exercise on other days as well. While the participants change – right now it’s usually Yvonne, Hali and the family dog, Nitro – they always go on foot. It’s a win-win: the kids earn some pocket money to spend on cds or save up for a snowboard, and they get to hang with the family, too.

Find a pooch
Daily dog walks encourage longer, more regular outings, in part because humans don’t want to disappoint their four-legged friends, according to one study from
the University of Missouri-Columbia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. No family Fido? Call your local humane society or animal shelter to see if it needs volunteer dog walkers.

Walk around the world
Record the distance you walk as a family, whether it’s steps or kilometres. Pick a place to “walk” to and track it on a map – kids will have fun pretending they’re walking from Halifax to Montreal. Web-sites can help you set goals and log distances: walktowhistler.com shows how far it is from your city to one of the 2010 Winter Olympic sites, while canadaonthemove.ca allows you to “donate” steps to research.

Stay safe
Slap on the sunblock during the day and wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight at night. Bring water and walk on trails, the sidewalk or the left-hand side
of the road, paying special attention to traffic safety. Stick together: kids under age nine don’t have the decision-making skills to reliably and safely cross streets on their own, according to Safe Kids Canada, a national injury-prevention program based at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Set goals
Mark walking milestones – a big hike through a provincial park, for instance, or every 10 kilometres completed – with small treats, such as stickers or a family movie.

Make a difference
Once you’ve been fitness walking for a few months, sign up for a charity walk. (Choose a short distance or bring a stroller your first time out!) Check out upcoming national events that support cancer research (Relay For Life, relayforlife.ca); combat world poverty (World Partnership Walk, world partnershipwalk.com); or send disabled kids to camp (Easter Seals 24-Hour Relay, 24HourRelay.com). You’ll work toward a goal, raise much-needed funds and have a great time.

Read up
Why not add some pedestrian-friendly books to your bedtime reading? A few to consider for kids under eight include: A Good Night Walk by Elisha Cooper (Scholastic), I Went Walking by Sue Williams (Harcourt), Daniel and His Walking Stick by Wendy McCormick (Peach-tree Publishers) and Crinkle-root’s Guide to Walking in Wild Places by Jim Arnosky (Aladdin Paperbacks).

Hunt treasure
Take your walk off-road and go geocaching. It’s a hot, new adventure game where participants use coordinates from a hand-held Global Positioning Unit – these
start at about $150 – to find hidden outdoor caches  in Canada and around the world. (There are tens of thousands of them, so there’s bound to be one in your area.) A cache could contain anything from a logbook to sign your name in to small items like toys, crayons and pins. To get started, visit geocaching.com.

Go backwards
If the weather is rotten, head to an indoor track at your local fitness centre. Shake things up by occasionally walking backwards. Here’s how: grab a partner and face each other, holding hands. One walks backwards while the other acts as a guide and spotter. Try for a short distance, then switch.

Keep walking, nursing moms
You may have heard that exercise while you’re lactating can zap levels of immune-enhancing compounds in breast milk, as well as dampen your own immune system. Relax. While exercising to exhaustion isn’t smart, studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro found that brisk 30-minute walks didn’t affect these
levels at all and actually increased cardiovascular fitness (a must to keep up with your little one!). CF

How much is enough?
You’re the best judge of what’s reasonable for your children, but Ottawa-based Dr. Claire LeBlanc, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s advisory committee on Healthy Active Living for Children and Youth, considers a brisk 30-minute walk for kids under 10 and a 60-minute walk for kids over 10 completely achievable. And Canada’s Physical Activity Guide’s recommendation that children aged six to 14 get 60 minutes of moderate and 30 minutes of vigorous activity each day? Hey, that includes couch jumping, skateboarding and running around at recess, as well as walking and organized sports. If you and your kids aren’t nearly that active now, start with 20 minutes of daily moderate exercise and gradually add 10 minutes of daily vigorous exercise for a month. Then add 10 minutes of moderate and five minutes of vigorous daily activity every month until you reach the total daily goal.

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