It is possible to just hop on a bike and go. That’s assuming you’ve learnt to ride a bike and know basic safety measures to keep you and your family out of danger. But it can be physically demanding, especially for little legs, or those who are new to cycling. Most kids want to learn to ride a bike, and it’s an easy way to get them into the fresh air and exercising, but there are other health benefits too:
- Cycling will help your child develop their leg muscles and strengthen their bones.
- The continued exercise will help build their stamina and improve their cardiovascular development.
- Spending time indoors, watching TV and using gadgets can make them lazy. This can lead to childhood obesity in some children. Cycling is good for helping your child get active, and keeping them at the ideal weight.
- Cycling is an excellent stress buster. A bicycle ride can help kids recharge their energy after a busy week at school.
- Cycling boosts confidence in children. It enhances their self-confidence because it increases independence. They become more aware of their body and the surroundings, and feel more responsible.
- It will also increase their coordination and balance. And as it takes time to ride a bike, the patience, persistence and determination they’ll need to succeed will stand them in good stead for learning other difficult skills they’ll need in life.
Which family sports and activities can help with cycling?
We all know cycling is great exercise, but there are lots of good reasons to mix it up with some other sports and family activities, to help build up bone density, increase stamina, and strengthen muscles.
- Hiking: is a good family activity which is also beneficial to cyclists. It helps to build up your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and hip muscles, which are all crucial muscles for riding. Plus, it helps with bone density because it’s a weight-bearing exercise. It’s also great for getting children prepared for cycling as it improves self-discipline, helps sustain attention, and they’ll become more aware of their surroundings. It also allows them to process information quickly (useful when out on a busy road), and helps them to multitask. Plus, it can improve memory so they can remember instructions and useful information.
- Swimming: can help you build a strong core and lengthen your hip flexors, as well as increase your range of motion and breathing capacity. It’s also great exercise for kids as they develop strength and endurance, and it improves their flexibility and balance. It might also avoid health problems associated with childhood obesity.
- Running: helps maintain aerobic fitness and strengthens bone density. Running is also a great activity to help kids build endurance, which is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. It also encourages self-motivation and hard work.
- Skiing: works the legs and glutes which are both important in cycling. It also activates and strengthens your core which is crucial for maintaining a strong back and comfortable riding position. It also helps with flexibility in both adults and children, and encourages quicker reaction times, which is useful when out on the bike.
How can good nutrition help with family leisure cycling?
You should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whatever your activity level, as this will provide you with all the nutrients you need. For children, a healthy, varied diet with the right serving sizes ensures proper growth and development. As you get older, you need to eat a healthy diet to give your body energy throughout the day, especially during exercise. Here are some tips for serving healthy meals for the whole family:
- Fruit and vegetables: are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium. They're also an excellent source of fibre, which can help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Try adding sliced banana or blueberries to morning cereal, or offer kids a fruit smoothie with a vegetable or two thrown in. And swap mayo and ketchup to hummus or pesto. Or add chopped up vegetables to tomato sauce and serve it with whole grain pasta.
- Dairy, proteins, and grains: are important to keep your family healthy. Low-fat dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese are excellent sources of bone-building calcium and vitamin D, as are dark leafy greens, fish, and almond milk. When buying rice, oats, or corn, opt for whole grain versions. And adults and growing children need a good amount of protein in their diet, which can be found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and beans. Replace your usual yoghurt with Greek style yoghurt, and go for lean cuts when choosing meat and poultry. And we all need some fat in our diet, but avoid butter and animal fats, and instead go for plant-based fats such as olive oil.
Limit also your salt and sugar intake where possible. Children aged four to six years should only consume around five teaspoons of sugar per day, which doesn’t sound like a lot. And when you compare that to a can of coke for example, that contains almost double their daily allowance in just one hit. It’s easier to cut back on your children’s intake of sweets, biscuits and ice cream, but hidden sugars and salt are found in everyday foods too, including bread, soups, condiments, and fast food. Try substituting fizzy drinks for water, or low-sugar squash. Limit processed and fast foods, and bake your own cakes and treats at home rather than buying sugar-loaded shop-bought versions.
With everyone being so busy nowadays, it can sometimes be difficult to eat dinner together, and at the same time every evening. But try to have dinner as a family as often as possible, as kids will learn to make healthier meal choices and they’ll be more likely to carry these healthier eating habits into adulthood too.