Do Healthy Parents Breed Healthy Kids?

“Like mother like daughter, like father like son”

About 8 miles into yesterday’s long run, I saw something that caught my eye. Something that consumed most of my thoughts for the next 8 miles.

I saw two people running together. Not unusual – but it was. It was about 9 a.m. and the pair appeared to be a father and a son. The son was probably 11 years old.

I couldn’t help but smile. Most kids are still in bed or on the couch watching TV at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Most parents would probably love to have their child join them on a run. And what struck me most of all, this kid, at a very young age, clearly has an interest in or enjoys fitness. I have to think the parent is at least partly responsible for that.

Yoga

Turns out Burton likes to join me for more than just running. #yogi

Let me start off by saying this: I do not have children. The closest “proud parent” moment I can recall happened at Burton’s last vet appointment. As part Pug, Burton is genetically inclined to be pudgy and not really a fit dog. However, the vet beamed at his body shape, his range of motion and his overall appearance, calling him one of the most athletic dogs she’d ever seen. I proudly told her that he’s a great runner and how many miles per week he runs with me. She praised me for my efforts in keeping him fit and healthy.

I got to thinking how rewarding those moments must be as a parent – with that, being a parent must be a ton of pressure. The responsibility of shaping a good, contributing member of society while ensuring he/she feels loved, protected and encouraged. And then there’s the whole healthy lifestyle side parenting. The responsibilities of ensuring kids are active, have a healthy relationship with food, and are just as mentally fit as they are physically.

As someone who’s not a parent, I can’t speak from that perspective at all. But as someone who spends a lot of time studying the health and fitness world, and who has several close friends with young children, I can say that I think most parents want to set a good example and raise healthy kids. But between all the demands of the day, healthy cooking is traded for the drive thru, quality downtime is sacrificed while going from one activity to the next, and exercise isn’t even a thought.

When I see overweight kids, my first instinct is not to judge the child, but instead judge the parents. Is that wrong of me? Is that totally unfair? Or is there some truth to that? I have to think there’s at least some truth to it. That if it’s enough of a priority for the parents, it will show in the kids – and the same if the parents don’t make the effort.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I feel one of the biggest threats to the health of both adults and children is that people just don’t move enough. There’s too much screen time, too much sitting and not enough of an effort to make exercise a regular part of everyday life. This sedentary “norm” combined with not eating the best and calendars over-packed with obligations leads to unbalance. The NFL’s “Play 60” campaign and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign are great efforts in this quest to get us hardwired, at a young age, to enjoy exercise and look at it as just a part of our day.

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Good, healthy food is delicious and fuels us to be active in everyday life.

So as parents, this isn’t to say you have to run marathons and never make another birthday cake in order to set a good example and teach children to be healthy. It’s little things. Cooking and sharing one good meal a week while distressing with quality conversation. Going on a family walk instead of retiring to separate quarters with iPads. Thinking twice before calling yourself fat when they’re within earshot. And the simple encouragement of them to make good choices on their own. I think makes the difference.

Let me say this again in case I haven’t been clear: I do not have children. I have no idea what it’s like to get only a few hours of sleep. I don’t understand the time commitment for appointments and activities, cooking for them, bathing them and reading to them. I can’t imagine the total exhaustion that’s felt most days. And I certainly have no business speaking to good parenting.

All I can say is I hope to be a healthy role model for my children. I want to lead by example, maintain fitness in my own life, share my philosophy that “food is fuel” and teach my children that balance is the key to happiness. I’m honest with myself that some days, that’s just not going to happen. But I’m going to work really hard for it.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to practice on my dogs and make them the happiest and healthiest they can be.

To all the parents out there, trying to set a good example, high fives to you. Know that there’s one person who admires you, believes you’re doing your best and hopes to figure out how to do it too.

Do you feel healthy parents breed healthy kids? Or is that relationship much more complicated?

Those of you who are trying to raise healthy kids, especially those with young children, please share your tips in the comments or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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