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Stress Management

Step Up Your Family's Fitness for the Holidays

Five Easy Steps to Help Raise Your Family's Daily AQ — Activity Quotient — and Stay Physically Fit

Keeping fit during the holidays may seem like a daunting task. Add the pressure of making sure the entire family is active, and many parents throw up their hands in defeat.

But family fitness needn't be considered a "mission impossible," according to certified fitness expert, Ruth Lahmayer, MS, RD. All it takes is a few steps in the right direction.

"With 68 percent of adults(1) and a quarter of young people (ages 12- 21)(2) not meeting the Surgeon General's recommended minimum requirement of 30 minutes of daily activity, health and fitness concerns have now become a family affair," said Lahmayer.

"One simple solution is to increase your family's AQ -- or Activity Quotient, a measure of your family's physical activity. For instance, wearing a pedometer and tracking the number of steps you take gives you a general idea of how much activity you are getting each day. From that measure you can then set goals for increasing activity -- such as taking more walks, playing games outside, walking in place during commercials on TV -- just about any activity can count towards your physical activity goal. It's a fun and challenging way to keep the entire family active together."

Lahmayer was one of the researchers who conducted a recent study at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wis.,(3) on the health benefits of wearing a pedometer. Female employees at a large health care facility were encouraged to wear pedometers and to walk 10,000 steps daily throughout an eight-week period.

Results showed that wearing a pedometer was a simple, non-invasive way for these women to increase awareness of their daily activity and improve their overall fitness level. In fact, a majority of those who participated in the project reported that they would continue wearing one after the study was complete.

"The research showed that a simple activity like wearing a pedometer to count your steps is an effective method of maintaining activity awareness and can help you set and keep your activity goals," said Lamayer. "Since most moms act as their family's 'activity coach,' I recommend that they encourage their families to follow their lead and find ways to include 30-60 minutes of daily activity in their schedules whether it is through a pedometer program or another activity that the family enjoys."

Lahmayer recommends families consider participating in one of many walking programs that have recently been started as a way to jump-start their fitness regimen. Many communities offer walking and wellness programs through the community hospital, at the local shopping mall and through the local parks and recreation services.

Walking programs also are available to all ages through schools, gyms and health club memberships and on the Internet. The "Step With It!" program, which was developed by The Coca-Cola Company in partnership with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and the President's Challenge Physical Activity and Fitness Awards Program, encourages middle school students to take 10,000 steps each day and track them with their own stepometer.

Families can also search online to find information about local walking programs, and to download step logs and the latest information on pedometers. One such site is which offers tools such as the "Activity Quotient Quiz" — a fun test to help users determine their starting fitness levels.

Lahmayer suggests these easy tips to make fitness a family affair:

  • Establish a baseline: Wear a pedometer to see how many steps you really take each day. From that measure try setting a goal to increase your steps each day, working up to 10,000 steps a day. Every 2,000 steps is the equivalent of about a mile.

  • Create a Family Fun Step Challenge: Choose a destination for a family trip and calculate the number of steps it would take to get there (average: 2,000 steps per mile). Post the goal on the refrigerator and log each member of the family's daily steps. Once the total goal is reached, reward yourself with a visit to that location.

  • Plan a Weekly Family Fitness Outing: Regardless of the weather, hike local trails or just take your dog - or the neighbor's - for a walk around the block. Don't let the snow keep you from your goals. Many local park districts have snow shoe rentals you can take advantage of.

  • If You Can't Turn if Off, Turn It Up: If you and your family are glued to all the holiday specials and reruns of "White Christmas" on TV, get up and walk around the room during commercial breaks. Remember, every step can make a difference in your activity level.

  • Take 10, Times Three: Find 10-minute segments three times each day to take a brief walk, play touch football, march in place, or even dance. These quick spurts will go a long way in helping you meet — and surpass — your daily goals.

  • Window Shop 'Til You Drop: Make the most of your holiday chores by adding in extra steps in everything you do.

    • Park at the far end of the mall's lot.

    • Do a couple of laps around the shopping mall, window shopping along the way.

    • Don't forget to pick up "healthy" holiday gifts such as pedometers for stocking stuffers, walking shoes, or even an upbeat CD to keep the spring in your step.

Source: Step With It!

© 2003 Health Resources Publishing