Before Facebook, Instagram, and cellphones, it wasn’t uncommon to see families spending time outdoors being active. Increasing demands on parents and increasing time spent on social media by older children means time spent being active as a family sometimes falls by the wayside. Adult and child obesity levels have increased with more sedentary lifestyles, meaning family activities are more important than ever, providing immeasurable health and psychological benefits.
The Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute says that nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension are major contributors to illness and death in our region, and Cayman’s 2010 census revealed hypertension and diabetes as the top two illnesses.
Unfortunately, the younger generations appear to be continuing this trend at an alarming rate, as obesity increases the risk of these illnesses. According to figures released by the Health Services Authority in 2010, 22 percent of schoolchildren were overweight and 14.8 percent were at risk of becoming overweight.
A 2010 study by the World Health Organization showed that 66 percent of children in Cayman spent three or more hours a day in sitting activities outside of school or homework. These figures may sound dismal, but it is not too late to change the trend, starting by incorporating activity into family time. Active children, says Kristen Lomas, registered dietician at Seven Mile Medical Clinic, are less likely to be overweight or obese and are at much less risk for various health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
The role of parents
Parents are believed to play a pivotal role in their children’s health-related behaviors, including physical activity, a theory shared by scientists and the public. A Cayman Compass online poll in 2010 showed that 84.75 percent of respondents thought parents were to blame for the inactivity of Cayman’s children. This inactivity can continue as we age, as Lomas reminds us “that inactive children are very likely to become inactive adults.”
Physical health is only one benefit gained from activity. Lomas explains that “when children are physically active on a daily basis, research shows they are more effective learners, take less sick days, have enhanced concentration and problem solving skills.” Mood and self-esteem can also be improved by physical activity, and valuable lessons in family bonding and social interaction can be taught.
The WHO-recommended level of activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, and for children 5-17 years old, 60 minutes moderate to vigorous exercise per day. Cayman offers many opportunities for families to be active together, whatever the age of your children, so these levels should be easily attained.
Fitness through play
Instead of “exercise,” very young children’s activities should be play-based and focused on mental development and social interaction. Motions Unlimited, Bright Start children’s learning center and The Imaginarium all offer activities for toddlers which challenge their cognitive skills through play. Post-toddler stage, fun is still important in activity. “Go for a family walk,” suggests Lomas, “set up an obstacle course, throw the ball around, go for a swim – none of these things feel like activity, but they are all part of a healthy lifestyle.”
Family walks and runs
As suggested by Lomas, family walks are an excellent activity, whether a beach walk or taking part in Humane Society dog walks for an even more soul-nurturing experience. The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park offers a relaxed yet educational walk for families, while the Mastic Trail’s 2.3-mile walk is more challenging and is not advised for children under 6. For older children who enjoy running events, family friendly 5Ks are often held island-wide.
Slower paced, but still active and mentally stimulating activities, including mini golf at Cayman Crazy Golfing and bowling at Kingpin bowling alley are good bonding experiences. On the beach, frisbee, beach cricket and treasure hunts are another easy way to get some activity into the day.
This is a fun activity to do as a family. Quieter scenic roads such as those in East End allow for longer rides or loops around West Bay are another option. If you don’t have bikes of your own, the West Bay Loop team rents bikes, as well as offers guided tours.
Swimming is an easy activity to do as a family, whether in your pool or the sea, as well as stand-up paddle boarding or an array of more strenuous sports for families with teenagers, such as windsurfing, surfing, wakeboarding or kite surfing.
Kayaking can be done in single kayaks or with younger kids in the back of double kayaks. Seven Mile Beach is a scenic spot for this activity, or there are educational tours available through Cayman Sea Elements which wind through the mangroves surrounding North Sound. Cayman Kayaks offers bioluminescence tours on certain days of the month from Rum Point, as well as daily wildlife tours.
This activity is great fun for the whole family. Private lessons are available, or scenic rides are offered by companies such as Cayman Horse Riding and Spirit of the West, which make for a great day out.