Photo Credit AdvantageCare
Dr. Lucas MacMillan, a naturopathic doctor based in North Vancouver, B.C. is also a fitness enthusiast.
The father of three girls, along with wife Brittany shares the importance of balancing a healthy lifestyle, which includes moderate exercise, and smart dietary decisions.
In our Q&A, Dr. MacMillan offers suggestions on how best to achieve family fitness goals.
Q: What fitness tips do you have for busy families now that holidays are over and the school year has begun?
A: As with any fitness and movement programs, we need to focus on enjoyment first.
There is a lot going on with school adjustments and class prep, so there are an abundance of reasons to not be active.
Finding simple but fun activities can add a lot of movement to your day!
For example, saying yes to the games that your kids want to play can be a surprisingly easy answer.
Whether it is tag, wrestling, tickling, or even hide and seek, any of these can get your heart pumping and release happy hormones.
If your kids are older, simple sports can be an awesome option. Spikeball, catch, frisbee, and disc golf can all be played with 2 or more people, and have minimal one-time costs to get going.
Let’s not forget the simple answers of hikes and outdoor walks – lots to be found when you look for them!
Q: The Fall brings cooler temperatures and less light; What other activities can you suggest?
A: I find one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with building fitness into family life is the changing weather, and the changing schedules. Habits and rituals are an important part of regular exercise.
That said, there are some surprising alternatives if the weather isn’t on your side. Personally I love virtual golf, which can be done any time and by almost any person.
Modern video games often have controllers and motion sensors that require a good amount of movement to play them (options here include Xbox, Nintendo Wii or Switch, or Playstation, among others..).
You can play various virtual sports such as tennis or boxing, or compete in adventure games that involve jumping or moving your hands to collect items or coins..
So many options in today’s world! Outdoor activities generally are a healthier option, but indoor activities are absolutely worth exploring.
Trampoline parks and jungle gyms can also be great options for families that are hoping to stay out of the rain.
Q: What are the benefits of incorporating family fitness activities?
A: There are many! Exercise and social activities all seem to help to keep our brains and our moods healthy.
I recently read a 2021 study that further confirmed this, specifically showing healthy improvements for anxiety, depression, happiness and more in the studied group of adolescents – we have had previous similar findings with other age groups. Long story short, movement is healing, as is social activities.
These two are likely to be even better when combined, such as with family activities!
Fitness in general is a great way to drop risks of metabolic concerns such as diabetes, various mood disorders, and even cancer.
It can create great social opportunities (which have their own list of benefits), and can provide great sources of joy when done correctly.
Fitness doesn’t have to mean doing something that really isn’t right for you, and can notably improve quality of life.
Q: What activities would you suggest for a new family or a growing family?
A: This is a big question to answer, but I’ll compress as much as I can.
First off, understanding the reasons and benefits (health benefits listed above, improved social connections, avoiding boredom, sharpening or gaining skills etc) can help to increase the priority level of activity in the first place.
Combining this with a thoughtful brainstorm of what activities would be most pleasing to all involved, followed by compromising where needed.
For example, if some prefer a local walk or hike where others prefer virtual video games, assign both to different days throughout the week, or based on the weather.
Take time to enjoy the events, and talk about them afterward so the fun and positive experiences stay fresh, which can help everyone stay motivated for the next event. The hardest part is taking the first steps.
Q: How do we keep it going the next time vacation arrives?
A: Plan ahead! Fitness really doesn’t have to be boring, and this is a great example.
Take a moment to find activities that include more walking, hiking, biking, snorkeling or similar amount of movement.
Many people don’t realize that exercise can help to normalize our circadian rhythms, and likely decrease jet lag faster – meaning you can enjoy more of your vacation! If activity is a priority, you can always find fun ways to include it.
Q: What suggestions do you have for maintaining proper nutrition?
A: Nutrition is all about balance. It’s ok to indulge at times, and I believe it is actually important for some of us to eat the occasional comfort food as a reward for doing all that we do.
The trick is to find the point where our indulgences cross over with healthy options, and decide on portions in advance to avoid binging.
For example, my wife made chocolate coconut oil balls that had 5 ingredients, minimal sugar, and were absolutely phenomenal – they also didn’t cause the blood sugar spike or sensation of endless hunger/addiction that we get from milk chocolate or similar sweets, which made enjoying them sparingly much easier.
This was a treat that had mostly healthy ingredients, tasted fantastic, and didn’t lead us to binge eat.
To enjoy these snacks truly guilt free, I believe they should be an occasional treat (not a predictable routine), and should have a good dose of protein, fibers, or fats to slow digestion and help us feel more full.
As for general nutrition, I believe sources of fiber are a big missing piece of the digestive puzzle in the average diet, assuming there is no medical diagnosis that causes fiber to be a problem.
Fiber-containing foods tend to be healthy (apples, oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, vegetables, beans etc), and the patients I see tend to have clear opportunities for improvement by focusing on eating more of these.
I can’t offer tips on how to get them past picky eaters, but I can say the health benefits of high-fiber foods are worth mentioning, and definitely worth the effort. We don’t have to be perfect, just balanced!