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How to keep your little ones active... the Olympian's way

Need some inspiration for family workouts? Lauren Taylor chats to mother-of-two and long-distance runner Jo Pavey

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Jump to it: Jo Pavey exercising with her children Emily and Jacob

Jump to it: Jo Pavey exercising with her children Emily and Jacob

Press Association Images

Jump to it: Jo Pavey exercising with her children Emily and Jacob

With schools closed and families living in lockdown, keeping children entertained and active is proving tricky for lots of parents.

Long-distance runner Jo Pavey has two children, Jacob (10) and Emily (6), so she knows the challenge well.

The 46-year-old says keeping them active has huge benefits, and she's on a mission to help other families stay fit and healthy during the pandemic.

Pavey won the 10,000 metre gold medal at the 2014 European Championships, just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter, making her the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 - and she's not done yet.

Pavey is aiming to compete in Tokyo 2021, her sixth games (a feat only achieved by one other British athlete), when she'll be fast approaching her 48th birthday.

But you don't have to be an Olympian to get your kids off the sofa. Here's her advice:

1. Do it as a family

"I think with this lockdown we all realise how beneficial keeping active is, and family bonding is really important as well," Pavey says.

"If we can use the time to engage with our children and make the commitment to keep active as a family, it's going to be good for our physical and mental health."

She has teemed up with Fit For Sport to launch the Activity Challenge - 10 minutes of exercise at 10am every Monday.

There are three exercises - star jumps, bouncing and catching a ball and six-metre shuttle runs - and how long you do each for is dependant on your children's ages.

Scores can be recorded on the website, and you're awarded a bronze, silver or gold.

"It's just about having a go. It doesn't matter if it's not a good score. You can do it in a small space - not everyone has a garden - and it's free," Pavey says.

Most importantly, it's something the whole family can do together.

2. Make it fun

"Because we're not able to do some of the activities we'd normally do as family, we've enjoyed finding new ideas. You have to try and make it fun - you need exercise to be a positive experience, rather than something you're pushing them to do," she says.

"If you can get out for a walk (staying locally and adhering to social distancing guidelines, of course) maybe encourage them to run a bit with you. I think they would have fun trying to run a bit with their parents - maybe pick out landmarks and see if you can run to the next lamp-post or the next tree. My son Jacob has been doing short runs with me. We don't keep running continuously. We'll stop and have a chat.

"I did a ladder running challenge with my children. I made a ladder out of an old bamboo cane and practised doing running-type drills over in.

"But it doesn't have to be formal exercise. It can be a simple game of tag or stuck in the mud, or throwing and catching, bat and ball - anything to get hand-eye coordination going.

"For a really young child, they could jump around like a frog or a kangaroo."

3. Set an example

"As a parent, it's a challenging time, but being active yourself as a parent, you get the opportunity to be a good role model to your children by keeping fit yourself and also by engaging with your children," she says.

"Show how much you enjoy exercise. I want to improve my agility and hope in the future to keep competing, so having these kid-type activities and playing games in the garden helps to make me feel young again, which definitely helps at this stage in my career."

4. Do it for their mental health

"I notice how (the children) feel happier. They enjoy that it (exercise) gives them a bit of a buzz. Even with the pressures we all have now of trying to home-school, it definitely makes it easier for them to concentrate," Pavey says.

"I feel like they're more ready (to do schoolwork) when they've been out and done some activity. It gives them a boost. You can tell it keeps them feeling better about themselves and feeling good."

5. Be positive

How children experience exercise at a young age can have a lifelong impact on how they feel about it as an adult.

"When they're showing enthusiasm, give them praise," Pavey says. "Even if they're not doing it fantastically or in a skilful way, give them praise and positive feedback for the fact that they're being enthusiastic. No way should you ever make being active a negative experience - never criticise them.

"And hopefully they can take those (positive) feelings with them as they grow and develop and keep that healthy lifestyle going."

6. Involve them in the decision making

Any parent knows that children are more likely to want to do something if it was their idea, rather than yours.

"Maybe they could come up with some ideas of what the family could do to keep active together, or give them choices of what to do," Pavey says.

"Wait until they're ready. Maybe sometimes they don't feel like doing something in particular. Bear in mind that it's also okay to have a day where everyone feels a bit lazy. That's natural as well."

She hopes families noticing the benefits of being active together can keep it going.

"Hopefully (we can all) lay down those habits going forward when the whole situation of the lockdown is eventually over," Pavey says.

To get part in Fit For Sport's Activity Challenge, register at activitychallenge.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph