Triangle Fitness Centers Make Getting Exercise a Family Affair
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Jenny Prater readily admits she’s only interested in fitness because she has to be. Motivated by Carolina Parent’s Fit Family Challenge this past spring, she made a renewed effort to fight past her reluctance to exercise and ensure that her children, ages 12 and 9, wouldn’t have the same lifelong struggle with fitness she has had.
“I feel horrible that I don’t have the self-discipline to make my kids eat healthier and get more exercise,” she says. “It’s a combination of stress, depression and being a single mom. Both my kids are showing signs that their young bodies can’t handle their weight.”
Despite the motivation, Prater had a difficult time getting started. Her kids are not interested in sports and have little desire to be active. After working a full day, the last thing she wants to do is constantly battle and find creative ways to force her kids (and herself) to get moving.
“I’ve read many articles and [heard] many doctors talk about how physical activity leads to overall well-being, but it’s stressful to plan and do physical activity, so how can it reduce stress?” a frustrated Prater asks.
“I get it!” says Derek Nereu, the general manager of Life Time Fitness on Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh. Nereu has two children of his own who are about the same age as Prater’s children and says her problem is not uncommon. Children in the 8-12 age range are too young to work out at traditional gyms, he says, but might feel too old or embarrassed to start a skill that peers have been involved in for years, like soccer or karate.
“Parents want their kids active and sometimes they just don’t want to be part of sports,” Nereu says.
A Family Approach
Nereu says Life Time Fitness, which has locations throughout the Triangle, is a leader in the growing trend to fill that niche and incorporate the whole family into a fitness lifestyle. Children ages 3-11 are considered part of the Kids Academy, which offers over 70 classes that coincide with adult classes. So parents can take their Zumba and spin classes while the kids take classes ranging from science and foreign languages to tumbling and their own Zumba workout.
reCharge Pilates & Barre in Durham also offers options for adults — including Barre, Pilates and TRX — coordinated with the reCharge Kidz exercise classes. Brandy Whittaker, manager at reCharge, says these classes fill a growing need.
“While most parents think their children get plenty of exercise, the reality is something very different. Most children don’t meet the recommended CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines (60 minutes of exercise or more each day, most of those being aerobic). We encourage the education of not only the kids but also the parents,” Whittaker says. “While ‘running around,’ is aerobic, they may not be stretching or learning to use muscles efficiently, thus leading to preventable injuries.”
Outside of coordinated classes, there are creative ways to make sure families stick together in fitness. Karate International in Raleigh offers family price discounts and encourages family members of all ages to suit up and try their hand (and feet) at a new skill.
“We offer classes for every age group, and our schedule allows for multiple age groups to attend at similar times,” says Karate International District Manager Kathy Olevsky.
Olevsky says Karate International addresses the concerns of parents like Prater about trying something new. “Children often have anxiety about trying any new activity,” she says. “We are well aware of that and we make their first visit special. We have each child participate in an orientation private lesson with their teacher for 15 minutes before going into a group beginner class. We help everyone move at their own pace to be sure their experience is great.”
Karate International also offers workout equipment for parents while their kids are in class. “We know in busy family life, parents often sacrifice their own workout to get the kids to classes. We provide fitness and cardio equipment free of charge for parents to have a run on the treadmill during their child’s karate class,” Olevsky says.
Leading by Example
Catering to the whole family is a trend that continues to grow in creative ways throughout the Triangle. There are businesses offering Irish dance, rock climbing, ballet, hip-hop — even circus arts. These are classes that both kids and adults can try without any prior experience.
But for Prater, there is still hesitation. She would like to be able to take a Zumba class with her children.
Olevsky says instruction often needs to be catered to the age level. “We do have family classes, but we also explain that we really need to teach children on a child’s level and adults on their own level,” she says. “All students learn better when they are learning in an age-appropriate structure.”
Dedrick Woodard, the Kids Academy manager at Life Time Fitness, says what’s really important is to lead by example.
“What she wants to do is teach her kids a healthy way of life,” Woodard says. “When you can do something together, it reinforces that as a part of life, but as a parent, you have to lead by example. Everything has to go through a starting period, and that may be hard.”
Nereu agrees, saying, “The parents have to say, you might not like this, but you need to do this.”
The trick is to get in the door and then ask questions. Even facilities that don’t schedule family classes often host family events, which can also serve as bonding opportunities.
“The more families choose active activities and spend time together, the healthier the whole family is,” Whittaker says.
Prater says she will continue her mission of encouraging facilities to cater to families like hers and sends a message of hope to other moms in her situation. “Just get your heart pumping, that’s all you need,” she says. “Oh yeah, and less junk food!”
Mandy Howard is a freelance writer and mother of three in Raleigh.