A Family That Is Designed To Move

I came across DesignedToMove.org from a tweet by Dai Manuel.  I have no affiliation with them, but I feel it’s an important issue that I could speak to.

It wouldn’t be news to you if I told you that physical activity levels are down among today’s youth.  But you’re probably thinking about the world right outside your door; what you might not realize is how global a crisis this is.

The problem exists in the USA, UK, Brazil, China and Russia, and though they don’t present the data here, I’ll bet Canada too.  It’s not just about “Western” diet, or carbs or video games, or whatever.  It’s not even merely a health and wellness issue; it’s on the verge of being an economic and even cultural disaster.  The fix? Get ‘em while they’re young – after all, the children are the future, right?

DesignedToMove.org is targeting kids under 10 as a way to turn things around.  Younger children have an innocent natural enthusiasm to try new things (I’m sure there are stubborn holdouts, but the younger, the fewer preconceptions) and generally speaking, energy to burn.  Why not harness that energy for their own future benefit?  The approach is a simple two-pronged approach, or a pair of “Asks”.  Here’s how we implement them in our family.

Ask #1: Create Early Positive Experiences For Children

Example 1 – Swimming

Both of my boys have been in swimming lessons on and off since they were six months old.  I’m proud to say that Shark Boy is now capable of swimming a few strokes independently (without flotation aids etc.) thanks to diligent work by his Grandfather.  Still, when he was younger, did I expect him to learn to swim? Do I expect it of the Lightning Kid now? No, but it was about creating a positive association with the water.  I knew we’d be close to the water often and either it was going to be a threat to their lives, or something they could enjoy for fun.  If I had suddenly dropped them into the water at the appropriate age for actually learning to swim, who’s to say what their attitude to it would have been?  Before they even knew how to say “no” the swimming pool was a place to have fun with mom and dad.

Example 2 – Winter Sports

Even without a “Polar Vortex”, Canada is a place where you’ve really got to embrace the winter if you don’t want to be miserable.  Shark Boy started downhill skiing last year, and his mother taught him.  Getting him on cross-country skis took another year (getting kids equipment is a little harder), but he took to skinny skis like a natural.

And when we heard that he had peers that were learning to ice-skate, we signed him up to start lessons in January… along with his father, who seriously overestimated his own ability on skates. Turns out, he’s really good at that too – I noticed how much less he falls down than any other kid in the class. 

 I know some has to be natural talent, but I really think there’s been synergy from learning how to stand on skis that pays dividends into his skating technique.  Which is a big takeaway – if you have ideas of the kinds of activities your kids will like and/or be good at, consider other activities too.  They’ll gain from the diversity.  To wit…

Example 3 – Razz a Matazz

I confess I have the smallest possible streak of conservatism in me that tells me in the back of my head “Dancing is for girls”.  Nevertheless, we enrolled Shark Boy in a Razza Ma Tazz class that teaches movement basics, especially those related to jazz and ballet dancing.  Back when I first took him to Crossfit Kids, I thought he’d be a natural at it, until he was asked to jump on one foot… and had no idea how to do it.  Even though he was great at running, jumping and climbing, he’d never had this little blind spot addressed.  It’s my hope that a class like this shores up any weaknesses in his physical skills development in ways that say, soccer, can’t.  And honestly, if he decides he wants to pursue ballet, I’ll support him 100%, though I’m hoping to hear a little less Nutcracker suite in the house.

Ask #2: Integrate Physical Activity Into Everyday Life

Example 1 – Dancing

One of my fatherly duties is keeping the kids out of their mother’s hair while she’s cooking and preparing dinner.  Going outside to the park is always good, but if the weather is somewhat Arctic-like or the time frame is less than 15 minutes or so, a simpler solution is needed.  We turn on the stereo and get our groove thang on.  Sometimes I get to pick the music, but it’s usually Shark Boy’s choice of the same old Kids music CDs.  The flavour of the month has been the Nutcracker Suite, which he developed a taste for in the lead-up to actually attending a performance with his Grandfather and wife, where his mother told him the story and described the action.  Seeing the performance did nothing to abate his enthusiasm, and the music has been in heavy rotation in our house ever since.  The name of the piece is apt, since it’s driving me Nuts and Cracked.

Example 2 – Burpees

A two year-old is a dangerous beast toward the end of the day.  If dinner hasn’t been served yet, they can be hungry in addition to tired, so you need to be quick with the distractions.  I honestly don’t know how I came up with the idea, but there was enough stuff on the floor to ensure a soft landing for the Lightning Kid and I guess I wanted a little exercise myself.  When you worry about developmental delays for your child, a lot can be traced back to gross motor skills – you start with those and work your way up.  The Lightning Kid is typical in terms of his gross motor skill development, and it’s doing stuff like this that has helped along the way.

Example 3 – Everything Else

If you look through the older posts in this blog (especially posts labeled family) you’ll see us swimming, biking, running, skiing, hiking and playing together as a family.  It’s not always easy to keep up, as we either get told by others that we take on too much, or get asked by Shark Boy: “What are we doing today?” with the expectation of adventure.  It can be exhausting but I have to be grateful when the boys are eager to get out and take on the world because I know how seductive more sedentary pursuits can be; the TV has been on more than usual during the daytime thanks to the extreme cold and the illnesses that seem to go with it.

Are you willing to answer the asks above?

#JustRunning Chronicle: Week 2

The idea was to have running be my only form of exercise for the first 14 days of January, with a minimum of 7 runs (to average running every other day).

You are looking at the only run of week 2 (after getting 4 runs in for Week 1).  I don’t want to be negative, and I know that the path to success is paved with failures, but I really don’t feel like launching into the next (and more complicated) phase of the 2014 fitness journey without having succeeded at the first phase.  Nor do I feel like repeating it.

The good news is that I did develop a thirst for other forms of exercise and more intensity as I went for my runs, so from that point of view, mission accomplished.  The trick will be to not think I can go madly off in all directions again.

While I had ideas for the next step, the fact that I couldn’t get 2 weeks of ‘Just Running’ done (thanks to illness, icy conditions on the roads), makes me hesitant to undertake them.  With things the way they are (I’m writing this instead of going to bed because I’m waiting for an update from the hospital as to whether the Lightning Kid‘s oxygen levels are going to go back up…) I need a moderate approach.  Like Ringo said, I get by with a little help from my friends.  Do you remember Carla of MizFitOnline? Her motto is #wycwyc (“What You Can, When You Can”) and our friend Katie of Mom’s Little Running Buddy demonstrated a great way to fit in exercise during domestic chores, see?

That’s probably what it will be like for the next week or two for me.

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#JustRunning Chronicle: Week 1

Rather than any year-long resolution or big, complicated goal, I set out to regain my focus and confidence by Just Running for 2 weeks; the goal was to get at least 7 runs in 14 days.  Here’s the first 7 days…

#JustRunning Day 1: Why not start the new program on the first day of the year? I headed out while the kids were napping on New Year’s Day.  I had on layers including long underwear; it was -12 degrees C and the wind was 20km/h from the North.  I found I was dressed warm enough, except my gloves – they were a pair of  thin cycling gloves better suited for mere wind protection.   Cold hands were less of an issue once I got properly warmed up from running.  For music, I put on the Oakenfold station on Slacker; I don’t listen to that much dance music, but this was good for a fresh start to the new year, something different from my rut routine.

Keeping my HR in the low ranges… fairly steady.

#JustRunning Day 2:  I knew it was cold, and I drew some looks of concern as I headed out, but I assured everyone who bothered to look that I was well prepared.  Well, almost.  The gloves were really not enough for that day; my records show -18 and 22 km/h winds from the North, but my wife’s message of support (saying how she loves me for [or in spite of] my craziness) mentioned -20.  My hands were really hurting and I kept them in my armpits and tried various tricks, but the threat of frostbite loomed (there were warnings on the radio that I head later).  I managed to run out for 10 minutes then headed back with my hands killing me and my fear of frostbite getting all too real.

#JustRunning Day 3: Much more reasonable.  I called this the “non-death-wish” version.  I don’t know if it was the time of day, but it felt slow for the same kind of HR I’d been trying to maintain every time (around 75-77% of max).

#JustRunning Day 4: Plan A had been to run on Monday, but after a crazy morning I didn’t have run gear packed for lunch, and Plan B to run outside was being defeated by howling winds that woke us all up at various points of the night.  I could have gone to the gym and used a treadmill that evening, but things were running a little too late and I feared New Years crowds.  I rolled the dice the next morning and got a little late into work (and worked through lunch), but the reward was being on track for my Just Running program 7 days in.

The First Monday of 2014

Hi 2014.  We haven’t been properly introduced, but you decided to open up your first  Monday and real workday by waking me at 5 AM (no problem, I was ready for that), dumping a heavy mix of snow and freezing rain on the area so I’d have to shovel snow (well, it goes with the territory, being Canadian I suppose) and finally having my bedroom door fall on me (NOT COOL – WAY OFFSIDE!).  Maybe you thought you could get my attention that way, and I could say Mission Accomplished, but I don’t want to give you the satisfaction.

Do you know what I told 2013 when it was getting started?

And 2013 was the year I turned 40.  You don’t have the advantage of a significant birthday of mine, so I wouldn’t get cocky if you’re hoping to grind me down or anything silly like that.  Maybe you don’t know who you’re dealing with… my mistake, as I said, we haven’t been properly introduced.

I not only graduated from one of Canada’s best Engineering programs, but I studied Electromagnetic Fields and other subjects in German.  By choice.
I’ve hiked the West Coast Trail.
From http://www.westcoasttrailbc.com/

Do you know 2003? It tried to get me by having me get dumped and laid off on the same day, then gave me melanoma a month later.  Low blows, and I certainly remember the year, but it’s been more than a decade and I can write the enormity of the entire experience in a nostalgic sentence like any other joke or anecdote.

I’ve struck, thrown and locked other human bodies and had them do the same to me until my neck couldn’t take it any more.

I’ve run far, and when running got too boring, I swam and biked too.  I married my running buddy, so as not to have to chase after her the rest of my life – I’m smart like that.

When I procreate, I make Sharks and Lightning.  The Lightning Kid was born with what they call a ‘disability’ – he’s walking, talking, going to a regular day care without assistance, and showing strong signs of being potty ready and he’s only two.

Do what you can 2014.  In another decade, I’ll still be raising my boys with an active, adventurous lifestyle, with a woman who could be described as some kind of cross between a Queen and an Angel by my side… and I’ll need to do math (but not Vector Calculus in German) to figure out which one of the twenty-teens you were.

Multi-Sport Mind: Biathlon

With the Sochi Winter Olympic Games right around the corner, I thought it might be fun to learn about an often overlooked winter multi-sport event: the Biathlon.

The word biathlon is of Greek origin and means “two tests”.  In this case, the two tests are skiing and shooting.  The sport has its roots in snow-covered Scandinavia where an important survival skill was the ability to hunt on skis with a rifle slung over the shoulder.

A form of biathlon appeared at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 as a team event called the military ski patrol.  The military ski patrol would also be a demonstration event at St. Moritz 1928, Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 and St. Moritz 1948, the same year the rules for biathlon were standardized.  Biathlon would make its official Olympic debut at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley.  Women would compete in Olympic biathlon for the first time at Albertville 1992.  There are now five events each for men and women as well as a mixed relay which will make its debut at Sochi 2014.
The sport makes unique demands on biathletes’ bodies.  After skiing fast and hard in cross-country free technique, biathletes must calm themselves to take accurate and controlled shots at targets 50 metres away.  The target size depends on whether the athlete is in the prone or standing position.  In the prone position, the hit area is 45 mm while in the standing position the hit area is 115 mm.  (source)

I find that last part interesting, because cross-country skiing is an endurance sport (and a tough one at that), the other half of the sport demands an entirely different skill set.  Mental focus, hard-eye coordination and such are really hard to achieve when your heart is pounding its way out of your chest (I used to have a video game in the early PC days called Winter Games; in the biathlon the targeting sight used to bounce up and down faster depending on how hard you had skied).  Missing targets incurs time penalties, so you can undo the hard work done by fast skiing.
I’I’ve noticed that there isn’t much cross-country skiing going on in Southern Ontario due to lack of consistent snow, so adding the complication and expenses of firearms and the safety protocols doesn’t make the sport very accessible to local youth, though having seen youth in training at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon makes me hope that things are different in Central and Northern Ontario.
I’m not a youth, but the responsibility of storing a firearm safely still makes my interest in biathlon purely academic (but if I did want to get certified, I’d go to Guide To Game).  It got me thinking, what if you substituted a bow (and arrows) for a rifle?  I’d feel a little safer about that… I think the potential for accidents with a bow is probably a lot less.  Well somebody already came up with Bowathlon it turns out… only they’ve subbed cross-country running for skiing.  The other problem is that the site hasn’t been updated in over 10 years, but I still like knowing there are other people pursuing the Multi-sport Mind out there…

Have tried Biathlon? Would you? What about Bowathlon? Any other crazy combinations you could come up with?