Staying Fit With Kids - Technology Can Be Our Friend
One of the biggest challenges in being a modern parent is the new-age juggling act – not only do we have our families to contend with, but with “result-driven” jobs that blur the line between personal and business life, scouring sites for the best vacation deals on a limited budget, and the urge to keep up with everything Facebook, we really spread ourselves thin. As a result, we tend to put a lot of things on the back burner: namely our health. While some may think that the 30 minutes of cardio you manage to squeeze in between picking up the kids from school and making dinner is enough, and others dismiss the notion altogether of having the time to be physically fit and active, the problem goes deeper than our own bodies; whether we realize or not, our children pick up on our behaviors and tendencies, so leading a primarily sedentary life could pave the way for future practices in our children.
There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of sources detailing how much exercise you and your child should get in a day. We’re not doctors (though some of us are researchers by trade), but the common theme is that at least some moderate physical activity on a consistent basis will lead to a higher quality life. This is true biologically—physical health and fitness lead to a decreased likelihood of lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes—as well as psychologically – learning to build positive habits as well as the harnessing the natural mood-enhancing qualities of exercise promote good psychological health. Some articles go as far as saying that the availability of technology for purely entertainment/leisure purposes is a direct detriment to healthy lifestyles in our generation.
The Modern Parent could never fully admonish technology; in fact, one of our focuses is seamlessly integrating technology into our normal activities, so that tech becomes a tool—not a crutch—for improving the quality and enjoyability of our lives. Today we’ll look at some of the ways technology can help (or hurt), ideas around keeping yourself physically active while making sure your kids are having fun, and fun spins on games that help your child interact with their favorite digital pastimes without turning on a single device.
Is too much tech a bad thing?
One of the biggest issues of a sedentary life is a lack of variety. Doing too much of one thing—even if it’s something we enjoy—leads to a feeling of complacency; we’re “just happy enough” doing what we’re doing that there’s almost no point in looking for something new. Variety kills complacency. This is true at both the microscopic level and from a bird’s eye view; just like it’s good to read books from more than one author or genre, it may be exciting to put the book down and pick up a paintbrush or musical instrument.
Truth be told, technology has improved—or at least added more content to—a lot of facets of our lives. Anybody can pursue artistic desires with the numerous photo-editing apps on iPhones and Android devices; sites like SoundCloud let people share their original music – usually royalty-free, which further adds to our creative zeitgeist; app stores are littered with sports-focused apps, and just look at the explosion of popularity in fantasy sports, now that any statistic you can think of has been digitized.
The real challenge comes in preventing technology from crippling us and essentially “tethering” us to a Wi-Fi connection or data plan. Many of the articles and studies on lifestyle-related illnesses and other health issues—especially in North America—finger a sedentary lifestyle as being more detrimental than a lack of exercise alone. Our bodies are designed and used to an active life, though that may not necessarily mean running half-marathons or topping this year’s Crossfit Games leaderboards. One thing is clear – we’re not meant for the typical 9-5 office job where our only walks are to the printer or coffee machines. It makes sense that standing desks, and now even treadmill desks, are increasing at more modern, “hip” companies. And while one of the goals of technology has always been to make our lives easier, at a certain point automating everything leaves nothing for us to do.
At The Modern Parent, we believe that by using technology as a supplement to activities that break the monotony in your life, you can enjoy technology without engaging in a purely sedentary lifestyle; you can use your child’s favorite characters to catalyze their own imagination and creativity; and you can create new ways to enjoy hobbies that may not always be perceived as “family-friendly.”
Enjoying technology without engaging in a sedentary lifestyle
I remember being in elementary school and watching the Jetsons, imagining that’s how the future would really be. Besides some of the ludicrous imaginings of the future in the show, nearly all the “technological advances” were designed to make typical activities easier. Meals materialized when you wanted them, a robot went around cleaning after you – it was great. But I was a pretty lazy kid, so I don’t want to know what I would have been like with that technology around at the time.
Some of the best apps and programs use their technology to enhance our daily activities and hobbies – or inspire us to discover new ones. Using a couple of different family activities as examples, let’s look at some different smartphone apps that can enhance your family’s next adventure.
- Constellation finders: Since moving out West I’ve used one of these on every camping trip we’ve taken. Using these apps is really simple: you load them up, point them up on a clear (and hopefully starry!) night, and the app will automatically detect constellations, “connecting the dots” so you can see the exact constellation and name without guessing which stars are correct. Some even provide extra details on the constellation.
- Trail trackers: the social aspect of these apps makes them handy, as you can get more personalized information about trails, as well as see them on a digital map (Think Google or Apple maps). A few of these apps even let users pin or tag locations on the trail – great for photo opportunities!
- Google Translate: I was honestly floored when I first saw the newest version of this app. A friend who wanted to show me the app in action began frantically looking around my house, until he found the box for my crock pot. Flipping it over to the Spanish side, he held his phone up and the words were instantly translated into English. This is a perfect accompaniment on a foreign vacation with your children, who might otherwise get flustered and saddened by culture shock and strange words written everywhere.
- Museum apps: In 2014, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science launched an app to promote their “Silk Road” exhibit – a series on ancient trade routes. The app—geared towards children—put the player in the role of master trader, initiating different trade routes across countries. The app was designed to both get kids interested in ancient trade routes, as well as give them some behind-the-scenes and early-access information before they visited the museum exhibits. A fun game with a goal of education and garnering interest in history, nature, and science.
Combining online games/apps with real-life activities (helping your kids transition more to active play)
Halloween is rapidly approaching, and costume ideas are everywhere – really, I’m just glad nobody in my family wants to be Elsa this year. But all the young ones dressed as their favorite characters gave me an idea – why is Halloween one of the only times kids get to become their favorite TV and online characters, and have new, original “adventures” with them?
This doesn’t mean we think your child should always be dressed up as some superhero or cartoon character. But you should try to use those same characters to get your child involved in active and creative play. The characters are then actors in the bigger show along with your child, and the plot is driven by the young one’s imagination. Maybe you can even be in the show (if they let you).
Activities to keep you fit and your child having fun
Part of being a modern parent means immersing yourself—and your family!—in an engaging, tech-accompanied world. Fitness classes are huge these days, but it’s hard to find one that’s family-friendly (without tossing your kid in a child-sized hamster maze). And while we’re not necessarily advocates of entering your 7-year-old in a body-building competition, there are some activities that, while typically thought of as adult, can be fun (and even easier) for your child. Here are some ways to focus on your own fitness while making sure your young one is having fun:
- Pilates Play-Dates: Not restricted to Pilates, and these don’t have to be as 90’s-suburbia as you’re imagining. Yoga is great stress relief and can be done outdoors, and many kids have fun with the “silly” positions, taking advantage of their almost superhuman flexibility. Getting children into sports at an early age can sometimes be as beneficial as putting a book in their hands.
- Family Bike Rides: A lot of urban areas are redesigning and reinvigorating local parts to have bigger lanes and friendlier access to two-wheeling families. Take advantage of this, and bring along a Frisbee or other toys in case you want to take a break – another great thing about biking in a park. If your little one is too small for his own bike, there are lots of strollers and “trailers” that attach to the back of your full-size bicycle.
- Laser Tag: You’ll be surprised how much better your kids are than you. It’ll also be a nudge to switch that venti latte to a tall.
So there we have it – while new technology might captivate us so much that it invites us to “veg out”, it doesn’t have to glue us to our couch. We can really enjoy life immersing ourselves in both technology and the outdoors. Whether that’s complementary ways to build your child’s interest in your activities, bringing the digital world to life for your child by using the characters and topics they enjoy, or using technology to amplify family time, we get our children practicing good habits by first doing so ourselves. We’ll send you off with this video compilation of some seriously awesome, active kids – we wish we could do any of this!