How to keep your family fit

Finding time to exercise and eat healthy can be an overwhelming challenge for time-crunched families. Canadian fitness expert Paul Plakas shares his tips for keeping your family fit

How to keep your family fit

Source: Web exclusive, November 2010

With parents working long days at the office and kids spending more time in front of TV screens, it’s no wonder that an estimated one in three Canadians is overweight and one in five is obese. But how do you break the cycle of inactivity and reclaim a healthy lifestyle when you’re crunched for time?

As fitness expert for the Slice network series X-Weighted, Paul Plakas helps busy Canadian families make exercise and nutrition a priority so that they can enjoy a healthier, more active life. Best Health spoke with Plakas to learn some of his best tips for keeping your family fit, even when you’re short on time.

Best Health: What are some of the challenges that you find working with families, as opposed to a one-on-one situation?

Paul Plakas: With a family, sometimes each person can help the other person, or sometimes they sabotage the other person, so it’s very tough. In some families, there will be people who have no weight issues at all. It’s tough when you’re trying to lose weight and someone is gorging on a pizza right in front of you, while Mom made you a chicken salad. So you can be a help, or you can drag each other down.

BH: What can parents be doing to encourage their kids to be more active?

PP: Parents, I think, have to create an environment that will allow kids to be more successful. That’s key. The first thing that they can do is be a good role model themselves, because kids will say, "Well, you’re not doing this, why should I have to do it?"

It’s also important to create experiences for the kids to have. Create play time for them. Let them be surrounded by other kids their age and let them figure things out on their own. When we were younger, we would always make up our own games and find things to do. Parents have to be conscious of reducing TV and computer time and allowing an environment where [kids] can have some imagination.

BH: You mentioned that this season of X-Weighted features more single parents than in any previous seasons. Do you think that plays a role in how healthy or unhealthy your family is?

PP: I think it’s definitely tougher, without a doubt. If you’re all by yourself as a parent and you don’t have much help, you are responsible for a lot of things happening in that family. So, maybe healthy eating and exercise isn’t at the top of your list’where it should be, because it can be a catalyst for the whole family being healthier, having more energy and having a better relationship with each other.

BH: Once a family has gotten to the point where they’re really unhealthy, how do you help them to come back from that?

PP: Basically, it’s one day at a time. For the families that I work with [on X-Weighted], after I’ve done their fitness test, I go to their house and do a "cupboard purge." I see what they’re eating’I open their fridge and see what they’re making for dinner, what their kids are taking to school for lunch‘and then I give them some choices that they can make. A lot of parents will choose things like Lunchables, because it’s simple and it’s quick. In their minds, they’re not sabotaging their kids’they’re just trying to get by on a day-to-day basis. But when I point out to them that this stuff is poisoning [their] kids, it really sets off some bells and whistles in their heads.

BH: When you’re dealing with kids who are in their teens, what kind of activities can they be doing to stay healthy and fit?

PP: The thing that I would recommend most is to be involved with your friends, playing games or sports. Team sports, I think, help quite a bit because everyone there has a like-minded goal to compete and do well. Yes, you need a genetic gift to be the best person on the team, but anybody can be an athlete on a team, and do well and contribute‘you just need to have the desire. And if you’re associated with that kind of athletic group, you’ll have a better chance of having a healthier weight. I think that not making phys-ed mandatory at certain ages anymore is a big problem in our school system.

BH: For busy parents who feel like they don’t have time to exercise, how can they fit it into their day and set that example for their kids?

PP: What I tell people is that if you’re just starting out, don’t think you have to work out for 30 minutes to an hour to make it effective. Research shows that for people who are just starting out, working out for three 10-minute segments will burn more calories than one 30-minute segment. That’s because an unfit person, for 30 minutes, cannot be very intense; they will tire out because their body isn’t used to that exertion level. But for 10 minutes, they can have a higher exertion level. And if you work out 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon and 10 minutes in the evening, you’ll burn more calories in all those 10 minutes than you would in one 30-minute segment. It’s 10 hard minutes, but you can do it.

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