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Kids rule: take exercise cues from your children ... and get in shape!

Sherri Schwartz does a lot of screaming. She also likes to kick and yell. Being a soccer morn, her behavior doesn't go unnoticed.

But, Schwartz is not the kind of soccer mom who cheers from the sidelines. She actually plays soccer. Schwartz, 35, kicks it up with her team of 30- and 40-something moms in West Hartford, Connecticut, at least twice a week. "I get frustrated if I can't play," says the stay-at-home mother of three. Believe it or not "when I was younger I did everything I could to get out of sports."

Schwartz caught the soccer bug five years ago when her oldest child signed up for a kindergarten soccer team; her son was so excited about the game that Schwartz decided to join a women's league. "I hadn't played since middle school," says Schwartz. "I didn't know how to play. I'm not good, but I have fun and like it." More importantly, her addiction got the whole Family moving.

Her daughter is now a soccer fanatic as well. Often, Schwartz and nine-year-old Hannah will mix it up together in the backyard and help each other with new tricks. "It makes me play better because we practice together," says Hannah. Adds Schwartz, "Sometimes Hannah will go to a clinic and [come home and] show me moves. I think my playing is a good influence on her."

Follow the Lead

Audrey Hazekamp, a clinical exercise physiologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says Schwartz is right. She recommends parents "find out what [their] children like to do and make it a focus of family activities." This is precisely what Schwartz did when she took the cue from her son and wove soccer into the family system.

Marc Sickel, of Rockville, Maryland, is an exercise physiologist with Fitness for Health, a facility for obese children and adults. He tries to put the fun back in exercise for all his clients. "I give them a new twist on exercise. You have to find what the person wants to do and have fun with it to enjoy it," Sickel says.

Soccer became so much fun for Schwartz it transformed her sports-averse nature and possibly saved her and her children from becoming another statistic. According to research by the University of Michigan, the number of obese and overweight children has doubled in the past two decades.

Preventing childhood obesity shouldn't be that difficult since "children naturally want to play and move," says Hazekamp. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests elementary aged children should be active 30 to 60 minutes daily and not have prolonged hours of inactivity. * But with 60 percent of adults leading sedentary lives, according to research by the University of Michigan, children are getting the wrong cues from parents. CDC's numbers show that in 2002, only 32 percent of Americans were moderately active and 23 percent vigorously active.

For adults, CDC recommends moderate activity (light sweat, small increase in breathing and heart rate) 30 minutes a day, five days a week or vigorous activity (heavy sweating, large increase in heart rate and breathing) three days a week for 20 minutes or more.

Soccer has enabled Schwartz to fill CDC's activity prescription. After five years, she's still shocked by her active lifestyle. "Soccer has led to more fitness for me. I started running after I got into soccer. [Now] I play soccer and run three to four miles a day, four to five times a week. I never did that before."

Play Together

Unlike Schwartz, who didn't become active until she was well into adulthood, 41 year-old Ruth O'Hara of Arlington, Virginia, and her husband, James, both came into their marriage with resumes heavy in physical fitness. A former professional runner, O'Hara also trained as a gymnast (as did her husband) and swimmer through her teens and college. O'Hara knew her active lifestyle would rub off on her children. But, like Schwartz, she never thought her children's interests would rub off on her.

When her eight-year-old son Jimmy was five, he started earning belts in tae kwon do. Jimmy's father, a defense contractor, immediately signed up for the classes too. "I did it because I wanted to be with him, to help him," he says. After months of watching everyone else have fun, Ruth O'Hara pulled off her shoes and socks, donned a white uniform and started kicking. "I always thought martial arts would be fun. I just never had time to learn it," says the preschool teacher and mother of two. O'Hara is now a novice black belt and her husband a full black belt. Jimmy, a brown belt, who initially inspired his parents to start tae kwon do, is now taking cues from them.

"I keep doing it because mommy and daddy are out there too. It's cool that [they] are out there, "Jimmy says.

"They are all sharing the exercise benefits, and most importantly, enjoying the playtime together," says Hazekamp.

Frank Loversky and his daughters get a lot of time to play together in the pool. While Loversky, 44, of Rockville, Maryland, swam with a masters swim team in California in his 20s, he went on a decade long hiatus after his girls were born. When 12-year-old Leah showed an interest in the water at age seven, he decided to reacquaint himself with the pool since he was already driving her to swim practice two to three days a week. "I saw open lanes and thought, 'How good does this get. I can workout too. It's double dipping,'" Loversky says. He realized how much he missed the feeling of cutting through the water. Swimming just lanes away from his daughter--and within earshot of the coaches--he can give high-fives or even just a wink for immediate encouragement.

Involve the Whole Family

As with the Schwartz family whose son kicked off the family's soccer love-connection, Leah passed her interests on, not only to her dad, but also to her younger sister Zoe, 10. Loversky is always encouraging his girls to practice because "I know if they don't go there's no way I'm going, and I really want to swim. I'm missing my addiction if they don't go." For the girls, having their dad in the next lane keeps them immersed in swimming. "It makes it better for me that my dad swims," says Leah.

By enjoying activities with their children, parents will likely also prolong their children's interests in sports, says Hazekamp. Like Jimmy, who sticks with tae kwon do because his parents are out on the mat with him, or Hannah, who gets to practice soccer with her mother, parents' participation fuels their children's interest, determination and enjoyment.

Parents who take exercise cues from their kids are not only helping them physically, but emotionally as well, Sickel says. It's a great motivator for children "when you [as a parent] do something because of them. You've empowered that child. 'Hey, I got my parents started,' is what they'll be thinking and saying. You let them lead it."

So, with her third child entering elementary school, and not yet convinced soccer is her final stop, Schwartz is staying open to the possibility that she'll be learning and playing a new sport with child number three.

* Information from

Building the Yoga Bridge

My Daddy is a Pretzel: Yoga for Parents and Kids (Barefoot Books; $16.99) is the first children's book by internationally acclaimed author and yoga master Baron Baptiste. Created for parents and children to share and learn yoga together, the book introduces a range of postures familites can integrate in their daily lives. The book is a clever, colorful and educational introduction to yoga for adults and children of all shapes and sizes. With its stylish and quirky illustrations, My Daddy is a Pretzel offers a fresh, accessible and highly original approach to teaching yoga and relating it to everyday family life.

Cari Shane Parven, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post's "Style" section, has had her work featured in Cooking Light Magazine and Small Business Magazine among others. Parven, an avid swimmer, lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her husband and three children.
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Title Annotation:Home Life
Author:Parven, Cari Shane
Publication:American Fitness
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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