Fit families: Sports for the whole family

By Danielle Wright

Tired of sitting on the sidelines? Danielle Wright goes in search of sports the whole family can play together

Parents and kids play Turbo Touch.
Parents and kids play Turbo Touch.

If you're having trouble finding time to exercise now that you have children, you could look at fitness from a different angle. We've tracked down family fitness options to keep all of you healthy and happy while strengthening family bonds.

Baby Boot Camp

Start children's fitness young with a baby and mum exercise session. There are plenty of programmes to choose from - such as the gentlest of mothers' and babies' yoga classes now offered at most studios, to more specific programmes such as Stroller Bootcamps at Yummy Mummy Fitness.

"For new mums it's really good not only for their physical fitness, but also mentally, for them to do something for themselves," says Yummy Mummy Fitness' Simone Rank. "The babies usually sleep in their prams but the toddlers love to imitate," she says. "It's quite funny to see they know burpees and walking lunges from such an early age. It's really cute."

Bike riding

Family bike riding is a great way to spend an afternoon. You can hire or buy tag-along attachments to your adult bike so younger kids can keep up. Take part in the Auckland Fun Family Cycle Challenge. The downloadable maps have checklists and questions such as: how many black and orange poles are in the park? Or, which stream does the Corban Art bridge cross?

There are lots of parks to choose from. Choose one you can ride to. Don't be put off by having to travel across town, as checking out a new park every weekend is a great way to explore unfamiliar parts of the city. The Auckland Transport website also features bike rides, information on the NZ Cycle Trail and Be Active Maps. Take it up a notch by mountain-biking on the Woodhill Forest trails with other families out riding together in a beautiful setting.

Start training now for the second Auckland Bike the Bridge on November 10, which will include a 20km ride over the bridge to North Harbour Stadium and even a toddlers' fun ride. Check the website and encourage your kids' school to join the Primary School Challenge.

See aucklandtransport.govt.nz for maps and cycle trails. Or cyclewaynewzealand.co.nz for some cool mountain-biking spots for more adventurous riders.

In2it

For older children, follow the In2It van to Auckland parks where the organisers set up inflatable jousting rings, scooters, giant frisbees, games and a big selection of balls.

In summer, look out for water slides down playground hills.

If you can't make it to one of the parks, there are also plenty of ideas for family fitness on the In2It website.

There you can check out information to remind yourself how to play backyard games such as ripper rugby, hit and roll cricket, double dutch skipping and the classic stuck in the mud, then drag your kids outside and have a go.

Training for events

Even though the events are held on separate routes, some of the training can be done as a family: ocean swimming and laps in the pool or fun runs where you can train together on local sports tracks.

Many of the parks around Auckland also now have outdoor exercise equipment for training side by side on.

Some of the more family-friendly events include the State Ocean Swim Series and the Devonport Classic, or start the children in their own series such as the BNZ FitterKids Duathlon series, but train together. One of our favourite family fun runs is the December Great KidsCan Santa Run wearing matching santa suits. Kids love it.

See aucklandcouncil.govt.nz for locations.

Some of the more family-friendly events include:

* State Ocean Swim Series, a six-event series at iconic locations starting with the Auckland Harbour Crossing on Sunday, November 17 with swim clinics available: oceanswim.co.nz

* Auckland Marathon has a Kids Marathon from the age of 7, November 3, aucklandmarathon.co.nz

* BNZ FitterKids Duathlon series specifically aimed at 5-12-year-olds with an emphasis on participation and fun. Next event is August 11, fitterkids.co.nz.

* Weet-Bix Kids Tryathlon, is almost as iconic as the breakfast cereal itself. Next event is December 5 in Manukau. weetbix.co.nz.

Turbo Touch

"The typical Turbo Touch player is slighter than a rugby player," says Turbo Touch manager Sandi Hackett. "We have players from Year 5 to age 70 in the game, a mix of netball, basketball, touch and ultimate frisbee."

Hackett admits her children end up doing all the running and taking all the glory, but another Turbo Touch mum, Vanessa Smith, plays with her husband and two teenage children every Friday night.

"You don't have to be good at sport. There's a social grade as well and we go out for a meal afterwards," says Smith.

"It's fun to challenge your children and we do try to outdo each other with tricks and manoeuvres. But we haven't got the legs these days to outrun the kids.

"It's just great to get fit together and mingle with our family friends who also play," says Smith, admitting her team is social, but competitive. "We're 'social winners' - we're a social team but we like to win."

Winter warm-ups

Just because it's winter, that's no excuse to stop exercising. Snow sports are perfectly suited to families with everyone out on the ice or slopes together, going at different speeds and skill levels.

Visit the Aotea Ice Rink (until August 11) or Snowplanet to get the hang of it before a family snow-trip. Booking active family holidays is a good way to keep fit and gives you a reason to learn a sport together.

Surfing is also a year-round sport enjoyed by families, and there are opportunities to encourage grandparents to join in family fitness by learning to garden with them or play lawn bowls. The options are endless.

Active families

If things have gone too far and your children are very overweight, don't hide from the problem. ActiveFamilies, funded by district health boards, is set up to target families as the means to change specifically for those who are 95 percentile overweight for their Body Mass Index (BMI).

"We see families once a week and get them active together," says Carl Fenton, ActiveFamilies manager at Harbour Sport.

"Initially, parents can be quite reserved about joining in but soon they're up and running around with the kids."

"We encourage families to exercise wherever they can - walks in local parks, making use of the beach, heading to community events such as fairs and markets, riding bikes, scootering, anything that gets families active," says Fenton.

"Simply booting the children outside to play doesn't work anymore," he says.

"As a parent, you need to get outside and play with your children. We've seen it work before and once families make the change they never look back.

"It's a hard change to make but it's worth it."

To join, families simply refer themselves through one of the three regional sports trusts: sportauckland.org.nz, harboursport.co.nz, cmsport.co.nz.

Fitness nutrition

Keeping fit means eating well to give you all the energy to be active and recover afterwards.

Nutritionist Olivia Young points out that each member of the family has different nutritional requirements:

* Toddlers and young children should generally eat every two to three hours. For longer exercise sessions, offer a break for a snack such as a sandwich quarter or dried fruit.

* Youngsters don't sweat as much as adults, so be sure they are well- hydrated when they start physical activity, and offer plenty of water during exercise. Sport drinks are not necessary.

* Teenagers need a more substantial and filling meal including carbohydrate, protein and some fat, ideally a couple of hours before exercise. Follow up closer to the time of starting exercise with a fruit smoothie, some crumpets or a low-fat muesli bar to top up energy levels.

* Teens sweat a lot so replace fluid regularly and for high intensity, extended exercise choose an isotonic sports drink.

* Parents need to keep on top of hydration and energy levels, too. Top up energy beforehand with some carbohydrate. If doing less than 30-45 minutes of exercise, it's not necessary to add in any extra meals or snacks.

* Eating and drinking after exercise is important for recovery. Restore the energy that's been used up with carbohydrate, recover tired muscles with protein, and rehydrate with water.

nznutritionist.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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