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Discoveries Make Fitness Fun

by Sarah on April 23, 2011

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Her slow, heavy breathing matched the look of intense concentration on her face as she leaned over me.  Carefully, she moved the stethoscope over my chest, her brow furrowed with concern.

She had discovered something unexpected.

However, the discovery was not bad news for me. Only the beautiful sound of my heart beating.

For this was no ordinary doctor’s visit.

The stethoscope was made by Fischer Price and the heavily-breathing doctor (with a bit of drool collecting at the corner of her mouth) was sitting square on my stomach as she performed her examination.

Performing excruciatingly meticulous doctor examinations was my daughter’s favorite activity when she was age 3. And any human or stuffed animal within range was fair game.

When I went to the midwife while pregnant with her younger brother, she accompanied me. Perched on a stool, she eagerly helped the midwife move the Doppler over my belly to listen for the baby’s heart beat.

Soon after we returned home after each midwife visit, it was her doll Madeline’s turn for an exam.  She would lay the floppy ragdoll on her little desk. And by sliding a block gently over Madeline’s midsection, she repeated the entire examination just as she witnessed it in the midwife’s office.

Born To Explore

My daughter, like most children, love to learn by mimicking and doing.

Even more importantly, like most children, she loved discoveries.

Children love to explore the world they live in, a skill many of us adults soon forget.

And as any good teacher or parent knows, the lessons that stick with our kids are the ones they get to through exploration.

Words and lectures are a necessary part of the parenting mix. But they pale in comparison to the thrill and staying power of hands-on experience.

And this is certainly true for helping your children learn an appreciation for their body and health as well.

A Family Fitness Essential: Learning About Your Body

For adults and children alike, learning about our bodies is key for getting the most out of fitness.

It helps us enjoy it more. It helps us push ourselves harder.  And play safer.

But for kids, learning about the body serves a special purpose.

They are master explorers, ravenously curious about the world.  And learning about the body as part of fitness taps into their innate inquisitiveness. As chief-researchers-in-residence, they are engaged and feel part of the action.

Finally – for all of us (adults included) when we note the changes that happen to your body, it spurs us to move forward and increase our fitness activities and other healthy ventures.

It’s hard enough for us adults to get enough exercise simply because we know that “it’s good for us”.  Imagine how well that abstract reason sits with your kids.

Having tangible ways to see our bodies change as we exercise can give us all motivation to keep going further.

So here’s a great way to get your children – and you – started in learning more about your bodies and fitness:

Learn About The Body Day

Set aside a few hours for a Learn About The Body Day

Equipment needed:
-    tape measure
-    scale
-    stethoscope (you can get an inexpensive one at most home health supply stores or even drug stores)
-    clock with a second-hand
-    mirror
-    paper and pens

You also may want to set up a special corner of the living room or some part of the house where you can post the charts and drawings you’ll create.  I guarantee it will fuel some lively discussions.

Okay, let’s go . . .

Gather the crew and announce that there is some very important business at hand. You’re going to spend part of the day doing a thorough family check-up.

Tell your children that they are now officially the in-house doctors and researchers. Their job is to document everything about your bodies and how fitness impacts you . . .

Here’s the agenda for the afternoon:

1.    Listen to Your Heart

First warn your children not to put the earplugs in until you’re settled down and ready to listen. Then, have your young doctor take the stethoscope and place the round metal head on your chest, slightly towards the left. You may want to find the heartbeat first yourself and then transfer the earphones to their ears once you have a good audible beat.

Sit quietly and let them listen to your heart. Exchange places and listen to their heart. Then have them listen to their own heart.

Mimic the rhythm with your voice or by clapping and compare the rhythms that you hear as you listen to everyone’s heart.

2.    Find Your Pulse

It’s best to practice this on your own first. You don’t want to find yourself desperately looking for your pulse while a bevy of aspiring doctors are breathing down your neck.

And to make it easier, start off by running in place for 30 seconds. This will make your pulse easier to find.

There are two places to look:

Pulse Point #1: Just on the inside of your wrist on the thumbside.  Press with two fingers between the bone and the tendon until you feel the beat.  It is only about ½-1 inch below the curve of where your hand begins.

Pulse Point #2: Trace your two fingers down your neck right next to your windpipe, to the right or the left.

Don’t press too hard to find your pulse. But don’t be afraid to press with a little oomph either.  If you can’t find it right off the bat, move around a little. You’ll find it – keep looking. (I know you’ve got one!)

Now while looking at a clock, count the pulse for 15 seconds. Multiply this by 4 and you’ve got your pulse rate per minute. Your resting heart rate is your pulse when you haven’t been exercising.

Now, try a few variables: Sit still and breathe deeply for a few minutes and then take your pulse.

Take your pulse when you first wake up.  Take it when you’re watching an exciting movie. Take it after eating.

Keep a pulse chart on the wall and write when you take your pulse, what the circumstances were, and the number.  It makes for great discussions.

You can also challenge them to see what other pulse points they can find on their body.  Make sure you start off with 30 seconds of running in place or some other exercise to make it easier.

3.    Take Some Measurements.

We have a special spot in my daughter’s room where we’ve marked both kids’ heights as they grow.  It has been amazing to see how many inches they put on in a short amount of time during different growth spurts.

Kids love measuring things and it’s a great skill to have.

You can give them one demonstration of how to use a seamstress’ tape measure and then let them go at it with their own inspiration.

Measure your foot.  Measure your waist. Measure your height. Measure your head.

Another fun way to do this is to have them use their own body parts to measure someone else’s body.  See how many hand widths their foot length is. Measure each other’s heights in hands.
How many of your child’s foot lengths fits into one of your foot lengths?

See how many body lengths it takes to get down the hallway for each person.

Make a chart and record all of these important measurements.

4.    Weigh Yourselves

Okay, here’s where you have to let go of all the emotional baggage we place on scales and weight.  Yet at the same time, keep in the back of your mind that – emotions aside – this is a great way to gauge how your body changes as you exercise more.

Let your kids stand on the scale and measure their weights.

Now, move this a step further. Weigh yourselves when you wake up in the morning. Before and after you go to the bathroom. (Believe me, kids love things that have to do with the potty!) After a meal. Before you go to bed.

You can even take this a step further for kids who are old enough to do math by having them measure the weight of different objects by holding the object when they weigh themselves and then subtracting their weight from it.

When I was a child, I loved the fact that I could weigh my cat this way.

5.    Add Some Action

All these measurements and observations provide a great baseline for seeing how your body changes when you move it.

The next step is to take these measurements and add some action to it.

After you’ve written down your information, up the activity.  Go outside and play tag or kick the soccer ball. If you’re inside, put on some music and do some furious dancing.

Spend at least 15 minutes to half an hour moving.

Then get your equipment and charts out again and write down what you notice.

Pulse + Heartbeat:

Measure your pulse. Listen to your heartbeat.  Compare to earlier – is it faster, louder? How long does it take for it to go back to your first number? Whose heartbeat goes back to the resting heart rate the quickest?

Weigh yourself:

Do you weigh more or less after exercise?

Additional notes to take:

Talk about and write down other observations:

-    Look in the mirror. Do your eyes or skin look different? What do you notice?
-    Try singing after exercising. Is it easier? Can you sing really loudly or reach higher or lower notes?
-    How do you feel right now.  What do you notice about your body after exercising? Do you feel excited? Sad? Happy? Calm?
-    Do you hurt anywhere? Where do you hurt? Do you feel especially tired? Where? (You can take advantage of this observation to roll out a bunch of ace bandages and have fun wrapping each other like mummies wherever it hurts!)
-    Are you thirsty? Cold? Hot? Hungry? Itchy?
-    Try doing some math problems – does it seem easier or harder after exercising?

And this is just the beginning . . .

The truth is, your family has just acquired one of the secrets to making fitness and healthy choices a bigger part of your life.

By changing it from an obligation to an exploration . . . by really thinking and experiencing what happens to your body when you move . . . you’re helping your mind latch onto fitness at a deeper level.

You and you’re kids are owning fitness – your bodies own it.  You’re not just doing it because you have to. You’re doing it because you know how your heart changes and your body changes.

You can feel the difference.

And by making your kids the head doctors and researchers in the household, you’ve gotten them to buy into fitness and physical health at a deep level.

My sincerest sympathy if you find you have to succumb to a daily physical exam and dinner-time discussions of pulse rates.

But on the other hand, consider yourself lucky.  Most people don’t get this kind of attention from their doctors or personal trainers.

Do you have ideas to add to the mix here on learning about the body and fitness? Please add your comments and observations – We’d love to hear them!

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