Suffolk family's fitness challenge

FITTING exercise in to your life can be difficult for all of us. Today the Everyday Sport project offers a new way - called 10-6-7. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING challenged a busy family to test it out.

By Tracey Sparling

FITTING exercise in to your life can be difficult for all of us. Today the Everyday Sport project offers a new way - called 10-6-7. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING challenged a busy family to test it out.

CLAIRE Parker is a mum who likes to practice what she preaches.

She is a mum-of-two from Great Blakenham who works part time promoting healthand fitness for Team Ipswich - Ipswich Borough Council'ss innovative sport project.

Part of her role is to promote the national project by Sport England to get us all active, called Everyday Sport.

As a former competitive swimmer who used to train with Karen Pickering, she knows the benefits which an active life can bring - like better fitness and self esteem - and applies it to her family's life.

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Claire has tried an idea called 10-6-7, which is designed to encourage us to help our children achieve ten minutes of exercise, six times a day, seven days a week.

So how would that work for the average family in today's busy world?

Would your family find time to fit in exercise, without spending a fortune on equipment and classes?

We challenged Claire, and her sons Sam, aged five, and seven-year-old Callum known as 'Cally', to try it themselves.

Here's a week in their diary.

Monday

It rained all day today. As I was getting the car keys, the boys begged me to let them cycle. Surprised but pleased (at least I know for sure that they enjoy cycling to school) we donned our waterproofs and set off, Cally on his own bike and Sam on the tag-a-long on my bike.

Sam likes feeling the wind on his face and Cally likes the achievement of cycling the whole way, which is about 1.5 miles.

Actually it was gorgeous - gentle rain can feel quite invigorating and of course the boys thought it was brilliant cycling through puddles. Isn't this what being a child is all about?

I normally do the 3.30pm school run in the car, as we often have to whiz out quickly for our evening activity, so time is an issue. Of course I also have to be aware of not running the boys into the ground. As the day progressed the rain got heavier and it would have been unsafe to cycle in that.

Never mind, on Mondays the boys do Judo with Ipswich Judo club. The children love the mix of games with Judo and it really gets them working. At the end of each session they have rosy cheeks, bright eyes and big smiles on their faces. Gorgeous.

The children missed their playtime at school today with it being “wet play”. They were visibly less focused and just that little bit harder work than normal. It's amazing the difference that activity, and of course the lack of it, makes to a child's concentration in both the short term period as I saw tonight, and the long term.

Being active and having the chance to run jump and let off steam, helps children to relax, concentrate and calm down. I have seen both my children go through complete mood reversals following a short period of activity - it really is invaluable.

Tuesday

More rain today. The sky was rather grey and I felt that visibility was not good enough to cycle to school. No problem; out came Callum's scooter and Sam's stabilizer bike.

This was a new challenge and the boys relished it; in fact it was their idea.

I ran/walked alongside them, good old mum! This took a little longer than cycling but we had a great time and I had a lot of admiration for the boys who managed the mile and a half very well, considering that they have just little legs. The journey took us just under 25 minutes.

I picked the boys up in the car today, as Sam goes dancing on Tuesday evenings straight after school. I park out of the way of all the hustle and bustle and we walk uphill for five minutes to the car. Sam's hour of activity is more than accounted for today.

While Cally gets some exercise at playtime, it is mostly unstructured and may, or may not be sufficient to improve his health. So I provided him with some games and activities at home that would get his heart rate up and help develop his agility. It was also a good time to spend with him on a one-to-one basis.

This was an ideal time to bring out a large box of activity toys from the Early Learning Centre.

With a few additions, a big box of toys from the Early Learning Centre lent themselves to a garden obstacle course. Our obstacle course consisted of stilt walks, egg and spoon runs, bean bag throws and mini ten-pin bowls. We also used chalk to make a hopscotch grid (sample carpet tiles make great indoor hopscotch games), chairs, a broom to make a bridge and a plank of wood to make a balance beam.

We used a timer to see who could get round the course the most times in three minutes, and played for a good 40 minutes before collecting Sam.

Obstacle courses are great for children who generally see it as a game. While they are playing they are also developing hand eye coordination, balance, flexibility and posture not to mention increasing their heart rate. All of these aspects of fitness form the building blocks of future performance.

Wednesday

We cycled to school today. I can't emphasize enough how much we enjoy this, and we notice that a lot more people seem to be walking and cycling. I think the move towards the Healthy Schools Accreditation and the emphasis on looking after the environment is starting to inspire people to leave the car at home more often.

We have begun to cycle home in the afternoons as well, and we all seem to be coping well with this 30 minutes of activity. When we get home we have also started using the back door instead of the front door - going through the back garden is a really good way to surreptitiously encourage the boys to run around, throw balls and play football.

We also enjoy playing a bit of cricket and today we played for ten minutes before we went in.

I do find that soon after school the boys just need to relax in front of the telly. Everybody needs to rest and unwind and this gives me chance to get their evening meal.

Once the boys are fed and watered they are ready to play again. They are very inventive and make up all sorts of games that I wouldn't have thought of.

Tonight the boys did a bit of skipping in the garden, between playing on the trampoline and kicking balls about - for the 20 minutes which we needed to make up the hour.

Many boys, including mine, find the coordination aspect of skipping quite tricky but it's absolutely worth persevering. Skipping is great for developing leg strength and endurance, and cardiovascular endurance. My favourite thing about skipping is that it is free, portable and can be done alone, with a partner or in groups. The impact of skipping can also help to develop good bone density which can help to prevent brittle bone disease in later life.

The boys see me skipping in the garden, and I am a firm believer that children will be more likely to be active if they see their parents being active.

Thursday

I had to drive to school this morning as I work on Thursdays - a great shame because the weather was gorgeous. Car parking can often be hectic, so we always park a short distance from the school and walk or often run to the gates. It only takes us about five minutes to walk, but it really does make a difference to the way we feel when we get there. We get to enjoy a bit of fresh air and have time to laugh and enjoy each other's company.

After school we walked back to car, which is slightly uphill so we used the muscles in the backs of our legs. Instead of going straight home we spent 30 minutes in the park. The lovely weather made this really enjoyable today, and the boys loved it. They climbed, jumped, pushed, dangled and swung on various pieces of equipment.

This sort of activity is great for developing the strength in their major muscles and they get as much benefit as an adult does from going to the gym. We also took a Frisbee with us, which got them throwing and of course running around a lot.

At home, whilst I was preparing dinner, and after dinner, the boys played in the garden. This added up to approximately 20 minutes which has made 60 minutes during the day. They ran after bouncy balls, chased bubbles and played games on the trampoline.

Today has been very relaxed and about giving the boys the space and the opportunity to run and play. They didn't once ask to put the TV on.

Friday

More great weather. We cycle to school whenever we can, this takes about 15 minutes.

Sam is only at school in the mornings at the moment and so I collected him on the bike and we cycled back together. 30 minutes so far for Sam.

On Fridays the boys and I play short tennis at an Ipswich Borough Council sports centre. It's a cheap and an enjoyable way to spend the early evening.

Today we played for an hour, although naturally it's not all at a hard and fast pace. After tennis Cally played football with a club at the sports centre. He has been playing since his fourth birthday, thoroughly enjoys it and gets a really good workout at the same time.

Callum enjoys the competitive side of sport, and is really motivated by the prospect of scoring and saving goals. Sam, who isn't keen on football, and I, watched from the balcony, playing daft games and cheered for Cally.

Today we have achieved more than an hour of activity, so they ate and drank well before I put them to bed for a well earned sleep.

Saturday

The boys have swimming lessons on a Saturday morning. If I'm honest they would rather stay at home in their pyjamas, but they both enjoy their lessons once they are there. Swimming is a great all round exercise. It develops stamina, flexibility and strength, and of course gives them a very important life skill. They swim for 30 minutes and then we walk in to town for a hot chocolate with marshmallows in, a lovely treat for them.

We got a phone call from a friend and arranged to spend the afternoon together. Cally went to our friend's house on his scooter and Sam on his bike. This took about five minutes. After the four boys had played inside, we decided to walk/scoot/cycle to the park and play football and frisbee.

We also played on the playground equipment for a short time.

All in all we were playing for about 50 minutes. We didn't want to go home because we were all enjoying the fresh air, so we all went for a short walk across the fields.

There is something really uplifting about seeing the children running freely in the countryside, laughing and enjoying being outside. My friend and I felt very lucky and relaxed, despite being surrounded by four frenetic young boys. It was lovely.

By the time we got back home we had clocked up more than 1.5 hours of activity, not including the swimming. It's not all continuous of course, but at this age, that is not important. It's all about achieving small chunks of activity throughout the day, which for children, should add up to 60 minutes in total.

Sunday

Dad wasn't at work today and so we all decided to go for a cycle ride. Sometimes we go to Rendlesham or Thetford Forest to be out for a whole day, but today we spent a relaxing morning at home and went to Alton Water for the afternoon.

There are dedicated cycle routes and the vast majority is off-road and so safe from traffic and car fumes. We cycled around the lake which is approximately eight miles, and were out for over an hour so easily achieved our target today.

The boys did fantastically well, and we all noticed how much easier it was for us compared to past visits, now that we are much more used to cycling. It's truly exhilarating and great to feel the freedom that places like Alton Water give.

Claire said: "An active lifestyle is already benefiting the children. I need only to look at their muscle tone to know that the bodies are fit.

"They know that they are doing exercise, because we talk about keeping fit and healthy, but because we do our exercise in a fun and unstructured way it is easy to achieve. They are rarely unwell which means that their attendance at school is very good, their moods are visibly better during and after exercise and of course they laugh a lot when they, and we, are playing together.

"Being active helps to make us happier and healthier, and I love the lifestyle we lead."

Weblink: www.teamipswich.co.uk

Sport England's project Everyday Sport aims to get us all injecting an extra burst of activity in to our daily lives - from taking the stairs instead of the lift, to getting off the bus a stop early, to joining a sports club or dance class. This summer saw sporting events on Ipswich Cornhill.

Everyday Sport hotline: 0800 587 6000.

www.everydaysport.com

www.elc.co.uk

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How do you fit exercise in to your family life? Why are the children of today less active than when you were at school? Write to Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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