It’s recently been estimated that grandparents are saving £16 billion year in childcare costs by looking after their grandchildren. It’s not just the parents who are benefiting though, there’s a whole raft of benefits for the Grandmas and Grandpas too as babysitting can help them to stay active and mentally stimulated.
According to a major international study across 10 European countries by King’s College London Institute of Gerontology, “…providing up to 15 hours a week of childcare helps maintain grandparents’ health and wellbeing, even after their previous health, social status and background are taken into account.”
Playing with the grandchildren can improve your fitness, mental health and immune system. By lifting, running, twisting, bending and getting up and down, you can get a great workout without going to the gym. Add in lots of hugs and cuddles and you can decrease stress levels too.
**Here’s five simple exercises which you can do with the kids for improved mobility, strength and heart health.
Go to the park
The park offers lots of ways to get active although I’d avoid the monkey bars unless you’re a regular gym goer and can do pull ups! Pushing the swing can be turned into a great workout for your chest, arms, upper back and shoulders. Stand with a split stance (one front slightly in front of the other) for stability, engage your core muscles* and use both hands to push the swing in a chest press action. Then try pushing the swing with just one arm at a time until the muscles feel tired and then swap. As long as you’re putting in some effort, after 2 minutes you’ll really feel it working.
Pick up the kids
If you have to lift the little ones up onto the swing, or in and out of the car, you’ll know how much strain this can put on your back. Try to get into the habit of using the big muscles in your thighs and bottom to squat down rather than bending over before lifting. When you squat, make sure your legs are hip-width apart and you push your bottom back rather than your knees forward. Check your technique in a mirror and look to see that your knees stay behind the end of your toes. Strong glutes can help improve balance too so this is a win win.
Kick a football
When we’re kids we think nothing of kicking a football around. Sadly as we age we tend to stop doing this until, if we’re lucky, grandchildren come along and we relearn how to do this. What should come naturally may suddenly be a bit of a challenge as kicking a ball requires considerable balance to stand on one leg and kick with the other. It’s often these innocuous kick arounds that lead to tweaking your knee as our connective tissues tend to get stiffer and need far more warming up. Try to do some dynamic stretching before you begin, swinging your leg forward and back as you bend and straighten your knee.
To improve your balance try doing the flamingo by standing on one leg; remember to soften the knee on the supporting leg. You can play this game with the grandchildren too and see who can balance for the longest. This is also great for boosting bone strength, just ensure you hold onto something for support when you first begin.
Chase after them
A real favourite with kids is to play chase or sometimes you simply have to run after them as you react in an instant to danger. As our fast twitch muscles, which we rely on for sudden speed, decline with age so does our ability to do a Usain Bolt! Unless you already jog or run regularly, don’t suddenly start and expect to sprint. Do some practice in your own home, at first do a stationary walk, march or jog on the spot then try to increase the speed for 10 seconds and slow back down again. Bit by bit you’ll get more confident to try this on the move, just make sure you warm up thoroughly before trying to go faster. It’s really important to wear supportive footwear like trainers, don’t go trying to run in flip-flops!
Get on the floor
Kids spend hours playing on the floor and will expect you to join them as they bob up and down effortlessly. If you find you’re starting to huff and puff when getting back up then it’s time to practice. As we lose muscle mass and often strength at an alarming rate after the age of 50, we need to do load-bearing or resistance exercises to counteract this decline. If you have knee problems I’d avoid this one and use resistance bands to improve leg strength instead. If not, bend one leg to kneel down on one knee, then the other. Now get back up without using your hands – place one foot on the floor and push up to stand – you’ll really notice how this works your thigh muscles. Use a mat or do this on a carpeted floor. Build up to do 10 on each leg then when it feels easy increase the number you can do.
You can turn back the clock by doing strengthening exercises at least twice a week. By keeping active at every opportunity you’ll feel fit for action and you can enjoy looking after the grandchildren and not feel exhausted at the end of the day.
*Not sure about how to ‘engage your core’? There’s two ways to do this. Imagine if someone went to punch you in the stomach (obviously not to connect)! You’d automatically brace by contracting your abdominal muscles. This is the sensation you want but just not as extreme – and try not to round your shoulders, just maintain good posture. Another way is to breathe out gently and then draw your belly button in towards your spine – not all the way – notice the difference and hold this slight tension but ensure you don’t hold your breath.
**If you have any health conditions, remember to check with your doctor or a medical practitioner before trying these or any other exercises
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