South Africans desperately need to start getting a message across to their kids: Work out and eat healthily. Mind you, perhaps South African’s should first to telling themselves that first, before demanding their kids adopt the message. According to the South African Heart Foundation: “South Africa has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 70% of women and a third of men being classified as overweight or obese.” It gets even more frightening: “This is no longer just an adult problem, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys between the ages of 2 – 14 years are overweight or obese.”

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That is a frightening statistic, and presents a serious problem for South Africa’s future health, and more so the stress that the public and private healthcare system will face – which in turn will increase the financial burden on tax payers. “The simple answer is that the best way to fight these statistics is by setting a good example for youngsters,” says Ivana Buchanan, group training specialist at Zone Fitness. Which steps should parents take to ensure that their children have a healthy relationship with healthy living? Read on to find out.

Home is where the lard is

Buchanan shares that they find that many newcomers to the gym have the perception that a healthy body weight and low pulse rate is determined solely by exercise, which couldn’t be further from the truth. She stresses that losing weight and maintaining a healthy physique is all down to what you stock your fridge with.

We agree, you are what you eat – and I am currently 15% Cadbury’s Marvelous Creations.

To rectify this, Buchanan says that we should opt for plenty of vegetables, fruit and lean meats (think chicken and fish) in moderation, not too much dairy and some whole grains. When you are at the supermarket, opt for whole foods; processed and pre-packaged meals are chock-full of harmful preservatives, sugars and unhealthy fats. Stay away from sweets, cool drinks and junk food. She further goes on to explain that what is important to remember here is that, if you and your kids don’t enjoy the healthy diet you have planned, you are unlikely to stick to it. If, say, you don’t like broccoli but enjoy cauliflower, go for that instead.

Determine the best workout for you

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I run religiously; the Nike+ and Zombies, Run! apps (together with my various running iTunes playlists) are my running mates. But, while I love running, I have started incorporating more weight training into my morning gym sessions at my local Virgin Active; this increases the bodies fat burning rate, and slowly builds muscle mass and increased power output. It also, should, help me get beach ready for December in Cape Town.

Buchanan repeats what every personal trainer I have ever had has told me, “After you have taken care of dietary requirements, the next step is implementing an exercise regimen.” If I see another gym bunny selfie saying #90%Diet10%Gym…

She advises that as with your culinary preferences, stick to a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you have read about the amazing benefits of weightlifting, but swimming is more your thing, rather take up swimming. It will filter through to your kids and create the impression that exercise isn’t a chore, but an essential, enjoyable part of life. Help them to decide on a school sport of their choice if they aren’t yet old enough to join a health club.

Interestingly though, I recently met with the specialists at DNalysis Biotechnology who conduct DNA testing to determine your genetic predisposition to weight management, types of food, and your optimal training routine (power or endurance). My DNA tests are currently being done, and in a few weeks I will be able to provide you with an outline of exactly how DNA testing will help you establish a personalised lifestyle regime. I urge anyone who is even remotely interested in having a better life to have these tests done – they are invaluable and may save your life. For more info on the DNA Health, DNA Diet, and DNA Sport tests, click here.

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Having said this, it doesn’t take a DNA test to prove to you that you should be exercising. Buchanan tells us that one of the big tragedies of urban and suburban living is that families tend to live past each other throughout the day, and only gather for supper around the dinner table – or, more likely and worse, around the television. Turn a workout into quality family time. Going for a stroll in the evening, or a hike over weekends is good for your health and for building close family relationships too.

Bad habits set bad precedents

Whether we care to admit it or not, our parents’ ways become ingrained in our psychological hard drives.

Buchanan shares a simple few actions that you can incorporate into your every day life to get you exercising without having to dress head to toe in Nike, and which will inspire your kids to live more healthily. “Don’t smoke, take the stairs instead of the elevator, carry your groceries to the car by yourself, don’t go to bed late, take the dog for a walk. Your kids will notice, emulate you and, one day, thank you for making better choices that inevitably get ingrained into their mindsets.”