By Julie D. Andrews Recently, on my first trip to the Hawaiian Islands, I was gob-smacked at the number of families there. Not just there, but there doing things together, active things, outdoor things of the adventurous ilk. As soon as I checked into the Westin Maui, I began noticing a trickle of active families, which soon intensified and wove its way through my entire stay. There went a mom and her teen son, jogging in the cool, early morning along a coast-hugging path (not a trophy, blonde-bombshell mama, by the way). Trailing behind her boy, she beamed a prideful "I know, can you believe this young man is my son?!" look as I scooted past. There glided a father and teen daughter kayaking, ricocheting unscripted giggles and smiles, not an eye roll in sight. While outrigger canoeing with friends, I saw swarms of families snorkeling together. Even when I was mountain biking, siblings sloshed by me, tires whipping mud, racing to trail's end. This struck me—particularly because, one month before, while biking in Acadia Park, I had not seen this. Retirees and couples biking, yes, but families, no. What I saw instead shocked me: throngs of massively overweight families, slogging to restaurants more slowly than the elderly, ordering fried everything with fries on the side for dinner and bacon with whipped-cream pancake stacks for breakfast while I cringed nearby. "Huh?" I puzzled to my boyfriend. "We're in Bar Harbor. Bike, kayak and rock-climbing-gear rentals dot every corner. What gives?" I recalled a Carolinas family vacation years back with my parents, siblings and nephews that fell during marathon training. I had my running gear on, happily about to launch. "What are you doing?!" the group asked, astounded. "You are on vacation," they said. I went anyway, even convincing my sis to join me for a power-walk-run the next day. Still, everyone around me viewed exercise as work, part of a regimen. But by that time in my life, all I saw it as was playtime. I know we don't want to hear this. It sounds like blame (far too harsh and unfair a word, so I prefer "awareness"), but a mound of evidence shows that parental decisions and behaviors significantly affect a child's lifestyle choices. It's easy to blanket-blame fast food or video games for childhood obesity, but a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that while fast food contributes to unhealthy kids, the core culprit in childhood obesity is dietary habits children observe and learn at home. Research suggests that the earlier kids learn healthy behavior, the better, according to the NIH, and experts recommend that most kids exercise at least 60 minutes daily. Plus, another study found that kids whose moms not only encourage them to exercise and eat well but model such behaviors are more likely to be active and healthy. Sneak fitness into your family vacation this year. Offer suggestions, and let your teen decide. Some possibilities:
• Rent bicycles (have your teen map a route) • Park the car, replenish water bottles and walk everywhere • Try a beachfront yoga class • Take morning or evening jogs/walks • Rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks • Take surfing or paddleboarding lessons • Scuba dive • Hike • Play tennis or golf • Pack a frisbee, paddle balls and swimsuits • Splash. Sweat. Fall. Rekindle the playful spirit within you and, I promise, your teens will take note.
Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.