Monday, March 24, 2008

Gym time and moderation

Shh, don't tell. Sometimes, late in the evening, when no one else is about, I let the kids use the fitness machines at the community gym. Erin is old enough to be officially allowed, and Noah is almost old enough. But we sometimes stretch the rules a little, especially on the lovely Concept2 Rower which I know has a Kids' Club section on their website for rower users 6 and under, so I know it's safe.

The kids are very much enjoying the gym lately. We've spent 8 hours there this week and they're keen to keep up the pace, at least until the snow and ice are gone and they can get out running and biking. We're between the winter and spring Aikido terms and they are missing the sessions there. Physical activity is something we've sorely lacked for much of the past few winters; it is wonderful that they kids are now recognizing the fun and value of regular physical activity.

The electronic monitors on the machines are the source of much interest. We can adjust time, difficulty, speed, ergs per stroke or stride, monitor heart rate and set various challenges for ourselves. What has interested the kids the most is the tracking of calories. The machines generally display work in watts or energy in ergs or calories, but the kids prefer calories because they learned somewhere that an M&M contains about 4 1/2 calories of energy. Since we're eating easter eggs every evening before heading to the gym, describing the in and out balance of energy in terms of chocolate has been a tangible way of understanding the issue!

Fiona is really too little to make use of the machines other than the C2, but she likes hanging out, chatting, meandering around, stretching and doing little exercises of her own. The attached gymnasium is a good place to try to teach yourself how to skip rope (progress is being made) or to chase balls or whack a badminton birdie about. It's especially fun to play in the gym when your brother, Air Noah, is around shooting hoops:

Since the place is empty in the late evenings, we can pick and choose and make full use of everything the centre has to offer. There are some small dumbbells that suit our small people. Erin and I use the weight machines. There's a pull-up bar that Noah loves -- and boy is he strong! We can use the gymnasium to our heart's content and have our choice of the four high-end fitness machines. This community resource is just over a year old and we feel so fortunate to have it!

My kids are pretty full-on when it comes to delving into things and the fitness centre is no exception. Erin has been doing 400 to 600 calories of work on the fitness machines, plus two or three sets of reps on the weight machines, every time we go. The younger kids have been delightedly tallying their energy expenditure on the bikes and rower and challenging themselves with high calories counts. Last night I felt compelled to make the point that the most efficient way to improve general fitness is by doing 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity three times a week, and that 120 minutes five times a week is not several times better than the more moderate approach! Being barely able to drag yourself off the elliptical trainer after burning off 400 calories is not really what we should be shooting for. Moderation. It's a family work in progress.

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