Family Time Redux

Editor's note: For more information and tips regarding the family fitness concept, refer to Dr. Gibson's article in the October 2005 issue of Parks & Rec Business magazine.

The reasons for family to become fit as whole are all around us. We are getting bigger and bigger and doing less and less. We are obsessed with diets and quick fixes at all ages. Insurance and medical costs are skyrocketing for all segments of our society. This sounds pretty grim.

However, if we start to tackle these issues as a family instead of as individuals we could not only improve our quality of life but possibly help our families now and also in the future.

Physical Health

The physical health benefits of exercise are endless at any age. Not only does physical fitness play an important role in the prevention of certain diseases, it also allows for a far better quality of life for each active individual.

Regular physical activity can substantially help prevent the risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure along with many other types of cardiovascular disease.

Besides preventing disease, physical fitness contributes to developing and maintaining a healthy body weight; developing strong bones, muscles and joints; helps to decrease the pain of arthritis; reduce the amount of falls in the elderly; and less hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications.

Studies done by the Gatorade Sport Science Institute have determined that about one-half of North American children will eventually die of coronary heart disease (CHD), the nation's leading cause of death. This statistic can be dramatically modified by one simple change in lifestyle, the addition of healthy habits through physical activity.

In Healthy Children 2000, the United States Department of Health and Human Services noted that childhood is a crucial time for developing healthy attitudes and behavior patterns that will carry through adulthood.

Participating in physical activity as a family will allow children to see the importance of healthy habits at such a young age if the entire family participates together. Not only does participating in physical activity as a family positively influence children in the importance of developing healthy habits by observing their parents participating, it allows parents to reap the benefits of fitness as well.

Emotional & Relationship Health

Family fitness activities, as well as leisure shared by a family may have a variety of relational benefits such as improved communication, group cohesion, and satisfaction.

Other benefits of leisure, which includes family fitness, shared by families may consist of stress reduction, family bonding, and problem solving abilities. The benefits gained from a family participating in wellness activities may be transferred from the leisure setting to other aspects of the families' life.

Leisure experiences have been correlated to relationship satisfaction, strength, interaction, and stability.

Family fitness should be viewed as a leisure experience by each member of the family to improve the family's chances of being successful.

Family recreation and being physically active may allow people to step out of socially defined roles and interact with family members as their personality dictates.

Being physically active as a family could be strategic in allowing families to share themselves fully and encourage each individual's personal and relationship development. These shared experiences may allow families to compensate for deficiencies in other areas of their relationship.

It has been established that children’s physical activity is related to their family's fitness concerns. This should be encouragement enough to get every parent working on their physical and emotional fitness so that they can positively impact their children.

Since childhood obesity is on the rise, self-esteem issues within children will become more and more important. These are just some of the issues that may be addressed by the family enjoying a family fitness program.


Obesity, family members who are overweight, and their associated health problems have a significant impact on the economy in the United States. Insurance and medical costs related to obesity and disorders related to obesity involve direct and indirect costs.

Due to both an increase in direct and indirect costs, families who are overweight and/or obese cost the United States on average $75 billion a year. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this costs each person in the United States $350 a year.

When one looks at these figures, they are almost unbelievable. One of the most preventable causes of obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. This can be controlled by each family member being responsible for his/her own health.

Furthermore, parents need to advocate and teach healthy habits to their children. As mentioned above, $350 is a reasonable amount to spend to protect your family. The average cost of a gym membership is well less than the $350 a year it is costing to pay the medical bills for every overweight person in America.

Furthermore, family fitness is not only a sound physical decision but an economic one as well. It is well worth the investment for a family membership, not only financially but physically as well.

All of these statistics and facts should be an important part of selling the need for families to recreate together and take advantage of the facilities and parks you're offering. It's imperative to inform and thus empower families in your community, and education that neither shames nor preaches, but simply points out the benefits of family recreation, is a powerful first step.

Fun Factor

There should be an element of fun in making the family healthy in all aspects of their lives. Take the time and invest and intertwine fun and fitness together in your family.

Too often we will concentrate on the mental and physical aspects of fitness and forget about the fun factor that we had in our own childhood. Children in families will know how to play naturally and the other adults in the family should follow the kids in that aspect.

However, when it comes to health for the family the adults should take the lead. If both have ownership of the process it will be more successful. This way adults and children alike play vital roles in their family's health.

Tips for Programmers

Think of how you can help the whole family instead of just the individual.

This different mission could be reflected in a name change of your recreation center or aquatics facility;the name would show that they want to serve the whole family at once.

Offer discount memberships and packages that encourage the whole family to participate.

Making areas that are usable and attractive to all members of the family.

Family fitness is more than working out; give the participants lots of change and variety.

Train people how to work with all members of the family at different ages and levels.

Work with insurance and health care facilities and do your part.

Work with counselors, social workers, family life educators, health educators, and mental health workers to educate and support the whole family. A true family center should be one stop shopping for the physical and emotional health of a family.

Educate families about free ways to improve health such as walking together, eating good things together, yard work, camping, etc.

Change what types of food you offer in your vending machines and the food you offer at your facility.

Have registered dieticians educate your families about healthy cooking.

Dr. Hugh Gibson is an assistant professor at Missouri State University.