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Family Fitness Puts Spring in Season’s Step

April 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Why don’t kids exercise?

Possibly because they watch mom and dad not exercise. But now that spring is here, the time is right for everyone to get out, with parents in the lead.

Going out as a family demonstrates to kids that parents think exercise is important, and kids learn by example, said Dr. Lyle J. Micheli of Children’s Hospital in Boston. What’s more, it helps the parents, he said.

Research shows that moderate activity, far less than a vigorous workout, can improve a person’s health, if the activity is regular. And this means that exercise that’s within the ability of a child can do some good for an adult, Micheli said.

The key is to start slowly, said Micheli, a pediatrician and researcher. ``You can’t imagine the number of injuries we see from people who charge out and go from no miles a week to 10 miles a week,″ he said.

What are called overuse injuries develop when people try more than their little-used muscles, bones and ligaments can handle. Tennis elbow is one example; runners’ painful shin splints are another.

Micheli recommends alternating a day with 20 or 30 minutes of exercise with a day of rest, and gradually filling in at least some of the rest days. Similarly, neither intensity nor duration should rise more than 10 percent a week, he said. And kids may not go for a half hour of straight exercise, because it’s normal for them to work intermittently, he said.

Some activities can be easy picks; everyone in the family probably can walk, and most can bike. In-line skating also is becoming popular with families, Micheli said.

Some can be father-son or mother-daughter, said Judith Pinero Kieffer, a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Karate may work for males and aerobic dance for females, said Kieffer, who has a youth sports consulting company in Los Angeles. The important thing is to keep the activity fun so everyone wants to keep active, Kieffer said. When it gets boring, change the activity _ switch from running to biking or from biking to hiking, she said.

Young people also do better if their exercise has a goal other than just working out. For instance, what parents see as a bike ride could be made into a kids’ trip for ice cream, Kieffer said.

This doesn’t mean kids get to dictate, because it’s still the parent’s job to keep the family active, Micheli said: ``A parent is a parent and is allowed to give some direction.″

Families who can keep an exercise program going gain benefits beyond the physical, Kieffer and Micheli said.

For children, exercise can become such a normal part of life that ``it becomes a pattern, without ever having to work at it,″ Kieffer said.

And getting away from TV will help family members talk with each other, Micheli said. ``It builds bonds within the family,″ he said.

A good exercise program allows for this anyway, Kieffer said, since ``we are not talking about running so fast you can’t talk.″

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