I’m one of those adults who’s trying to optimize my life so that I can still enjoy an active lifestyle well into my senior years. I’m also trying to raise a school-age child while in my late 40s. This has become somewhat of a challenge, as he gets faster at the sports and activities we enjoy together (and I’m constantly getting slower!).
I can’t always keep up to my son and his friends when we go for hikes now. I’m more likely to get injured if I fall down while biking or skiing. And I occasionally feel alienated by the younger, more energetic parents I see on my social media feed. (They look so happy and perky, while some days I just feel tired and old.)
I first heard the term “active aging” in a fitness class I was taking. The class was aimed at adults over 40, with workouts customized to us “slightly older” folks who don’t want to be taught by a peppy 20-year-old with endless energy and young knees. It’s a concept I’ve come to embrace.
There’s no doubt that as you get older, you have to adapt how you can be active. Yet I’ve found it’s best not to focus on what I can’t do, and instead make the most of the opportunities I have to be active.
Active parents raise active children
Regardless of your age as a parent or how “young” you feel when you get out of bed in the morning, your physical activity habits affect your children’s level of physical activity.
As ParticipACTION notes in its 2020 report, how we move as a family has a direct impact on our kids:
“Be active as a family and make it a priority – this encourages physical activity, social support, connectedness and attachment, which are all important for good mental health.”
The report card goes on to explain the importance of parents “watching, role-modelling, co-participating and attending physical activity events.”
Practical strategies for all parents to get moving
If you’re struggling to encourage your children or teenagers to get off their devices and to find active ways to pass their time, you’re not alone. The reality though is that our kids need us to model the active living we’d like to see, and it really does start with us, the parents.
Below are some strategies that have helped me over the past few years as I gracefully make my way into my later-40s:
1. Learn to work around and with your limitations as a parent
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I should be “resting” or that I should “take it easy” because I’ve got a bad back or I’ve tweaked my knee or I’ve strained something in my hip. Yet this does not mean it’s a good idea to sit on the sofa watching TV all day long. Find an active hobby that you can do with your children that’s within your physical limits.
For example, while healing from a couple of injuries this spring I discovered geocaching. This became a godsend for my family. It was a nice gentle activity, it got us outside, and there wasn’t any stress or impact on my joints. We also played a lot of disc golf this spring because it was a mellow activity I could enjoy without pain.
2. Focus on your own strength training and fitness
If we are to be healthy role models for our children, they need to see us taking care of our own health. My son sees me leave the house for weekly Zumba classes. He knows I plan ski days with my girlfriends while he’s in school. He knows I make it a priority to attend at least one yoga or strength training class per week. While I do this for myself, I also do it for him, to model the kind of active lifestyle I hope he’ll strive to achieve into his own adult years.
3. Outsource teaching if you need to
I’ve long given up on being able to teach my son how to improve at skiing or mountain biking. He’s surpassed me in both sports and needs better coaching than I can provide. And I’m okay with that!
Find quality programs and certified professional teachers to take your kids to the next level in their chosen sports and activities, and then get out on the weekend to practice together at a more relaxed pace the whole family can enjoy: a casual game of hockey at a local skating rink, a day at the ski hill, or an easy pathway ride on your bikes.
This is a great opportunity to build self esteem and leadership skills in your children as well. Perhaps they take the lead and introduce you to a new bike trail they rode with their instructor at summer camp, or they can teach you a new skill their coach taught them last week in their favourite sport.
Related read: How to be an active example for your kids
4. Find a group of other like-minded families
When we go hiking, we try to go with other families. We work together as a team, and we step in to help out when one of us is at the end of our rope with our own children (who always respond better to another parent’s coaching). We send the parents with healthy knees running down the trail with the “sprinters.” The slower parents (me included!) hang out at the back, handing out candy to motivate the younger kids who might need a bit more encouragement to reach the trailhead at the end of a long hike.
Last winter, we met up with another family at a ski hill, and my girlfriend took my son skiing with her daughter for the morning on advanced runs that I wasn’t able to ski. I was able to “pay it forward” later when I introduced the family to geocaching, something that I’m passionate about and that my friend’s family took an immense liking to.
It’s never too late to be active in life
There are many physical activities and games you can do with kids that are less intense and don’t require traditional “sports” skills. Even if you haven’t made physical activity a regular part of your routine, it’s never too late to start.
Try a 20-minute walk each evening as a family after dinner. Download a geocaching app for your phone, and try to find a few caches on the weekend in parks close to home. Ask friends for their recommendations for the best easy hikes near your city, and try to tackle a few this summer. Or even purchase a couple of inflatable stand up paddleboards or kayaks and take up a new hobby as a family.
The options are endless for activities you can enjoy together as a family. The important thing is to discover ways you can all enjoy moving together.
Photos courtesy of Tanya Koob.