It’s no secret that rising rates of obesity in Australia is contributing to significant and life-threatening health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Almost two in three Australian adults are now overweight or obese, while one in four children aged between two and 17 are considered to be in this category too.
According to accredited practising dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan technology has severely impacted our health and families need to find new ways to be active.
‘Activity plays a role in obesity but it’s over the long term. We see for example hours of TV viewing linked to rates of obesity,’ she tells FEMAIL.
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Dr Joanna McMillan (pictured) says she keeps her children fit by getting them to help in the garden and with household chores
‘There are some contradictions and not all research is aligned. There is no doubt that food plays a major role… but the fact is that we are significantly less active than in the past and this impacts not just energy burn but muscle mass, appetite, insulin sensitivity, mental health and other factors that affect metabolism and long-term weight control.’
Dr McMillan says there a range of factors contributing to our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles.
‘I think families struggle because of time, convenience and the lure of modern life activities such as computer games, TV, screens of all types and fancier games than kicking a ball in the park or climbing trees – things we did in our youth,’ she says.
Leading dietitian, Dr Joanna McMillan (pictured), says families struggle to be active because of time, convenience and the lure of modern life
‘Parents are tired and so time off they often want to relax rather than do something active.
‘Then there are concerns over letting kids out on their own, city living with smaller backyards and opportunities for activity.
‘If everyone in the household is active, it rubs off. What is normal around us becomes our normal. So, if you can get everyone, young, old and everyone in between involved in activity it makes it just another part of the day.’
Here Dr McMillan shares her top tips with FEMAIL to help get your family fit.
1. Go for pre/post-dinner walks
‘Whether you head into town or just cruise the neighbourhood, building a walk into your daily schedule ensures that it won’t get put off,’ she says.
‘Take a pram with toddlers and young kids, so that they can alternate time in and out of the stroller. Evening walks are a good time for busy families.’
Dr McMillan says to make walking more enticing for children look for milestones and landmarks along the way.
Currently one in four Australian children, aged between two and 17, are considered to be overweight or obese
2. Sneak workouts into other activities
Although it might sound more difficult, Dr McMillan recommends having your toddler walk instead of riding in the shopping trolley at the supermarket.
‘Take the stairs or walk up the escalator whenever possible,’ she says.
‘Depending on how far you live from school and your workload, another alternative is to drive your kids halfway to school, then park the car and get out and walk the rest of the way with them.
‘Doing this one or two mornings a week is a great way to incorporate exercise into your child’s routine.’
3. Turn TV commercials into fitness breaks
It’s easy to spend countless hours sprawled out on the couch in front of the television each day. But this unhealthy habit is contributing to significant weight gain among children and adults.
Although it is wise to minimise screen time altogether, Dr McMillan suggests inventing silly names for simple exercises like squats, push-ups, and sit-ups and doing them between television commercials.
‘Call them “princess sit-ups” or “Bob the Builder muscle builders”, which will no doubt go down well with the kids. You can also play “coach,” in which you take turns “ordering” each other to “drop and give me five,” or “follow the leader,” in which one person leads the others in fun, simple moves like clapping, wiggling, and marching,’ she explains.
4. Have a weekly sports night
Scheduling in time for sports every week can be difficult for parents, but Dr McMillan suggests incorporating family-friendly exercises into a night at home.
‘Every Wednesday, for example, get everyone up and moving. One game to play is the fit-deck shuffle,’ she says.
‘Create a series of playing cards featuring family-friendly exercises, such as bear-crawling or ape-walking. Each family member picks a card and performs the exercise pictured until all the cards have been dealt.’
Dr McMillan encourages families to get outside, take walks and participate in charity fun runs
5. Walk or run for charity
Entering charity walks or runs helps make exercise more family friendly.
‘Look for local fun runs and sign up the whole family. I recently did this with my partner at two boys in the Sydney Family Fun Run,’ Dr McMillan says.
‘It got us all out and active early on a Sunday morning, and my kids were so proud of themselves managing to run the whole way.’
6. Make a game out of household chores
We all know how dull household chores can be so why not combine it with exercise with the kids?
‘Make chores such as sweeping the floor fun for kids by pretending that dust creatures are invading your house and it’s up to Captain [insert child’s name] to save the day by capturing them with his broom.
‘Make believe they’re one of the Rescue Heroes, and have them save their teddy bears from the slimy pit of the floor by putting them safely in their toy chest. Alternatively, turn folding the laundry into a guessing game. After correctly identifying who owns what piece of clothing, get your kids to help fold them.’
7. Put kids to work in the yard
One of the challenges for parents is getting the children away from iPads, computers and games. Dr McMillan says at every opportunity encourage your children to go outside.
‘My kids are generally much happier to help in the garden than in the house,’ she explains.
‘Get kids involved in sweeping leaves, taking out bins, sorting the recycling and washing the car,’ she suggests.
Dr McMillan says Australian families are significantly less active than in the past and need to exercise more
8. Team up for gardening
Research shows that gardening is as good as weight training when it comes to preventing osteoporosis, says Dr McMillan.
‘Kids are great at digging up dirt, so let them turn over the soil and help you plant new bulbs.
‘If you’re planting vegetables, it can make them more appetising to kids,’ she says.
9. Walk the dog
‘Research from the US shows that dog-owners had more fun losing weight and were able to keep it off longer than non-pup-owners. If you don’t have a pooch, perhaps take the kids for a walk to the park to look for breeds of dog they like – anything to get them up and moving,’ explains Dr McMillan.
10. Crank up the music and boogie down
Dancing can be a great form of cardio and burning calories. Dr McMillan suggests holding disco nights with the kids.
‘Move the furniture aside, fill the CD player with dance tunes, and lets the kids take turns using a flashlight as a strobe light,’ she says.
‘Home dance-athons are a great way to keep the kids entertained and moving.’