Summer Survival Guide: How parents and kids can stay fit and healthy in the school holidays

Want to know how you can make it through the summer break without losing all your heard earned progress or your sanity?

We’ve got the answers.

For many parents, the summer can be a stressful time…

The kids are about to break up from school, holidays are just around the corner, and with it often comes numerous hurdles that could derail your fitness regime.

Exercise routines often go out of the window, parents find themselves putting their kids’ needs first, and travelling on holiday can wreak havoc on your waistline.

And it’s not just parents that suffer.

Research suggests that the summer holidays can be detrimental to children’s health, with several studies linking summer holidays to increases in BMI and obesity rates [1-2].

However, don’t panic.

We’ve worked with thousands of clients at Ultimate Performance who are parents and helped them build up the skills, knowledge and tricks to successfully navigate the tricky summer months.

Read on for our ultimate survival plan to learn:

  • How to navigate the challenges of childcare while staying on track (and sane)
  • How to get your kids involved to keep them happy, healthy and entertained
  • Quick and easy workouts to fit around your busy schedule
  • Kid-friendly recipes for all the family to have fun in the kitchen

Why summer holidays can be problematic if you’re a parent chasing a fitness goal

Summer holidays are often seen as a fun and relaxing time of the year, but for many parents, it can feel the exact opposite!

We’ve shortlisted some of the biggest summer break challenges… and we’ve also given you some handy tips to beat them too.

 

1. Your routine and exercise habits have all but disappeared

During the summer months, it’s easy for you and the kids to fall out of your normal exercise routines.

While a little R&R is always beneficial, it often comes at a cost, with exercise and activity often falling by the wayside.

Recent studies suggest that your overall health and fitness levels can be affected after just 14 days of inactivity.

One study found that reducing activity from 10,000 to 1,500 steps per day lead to metabolic changes that increased the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, increased body fat and losses in muscle mass [3-4].

And the problems don’t end there…

Worryingly, the health impacts of inactivity are not limited to just adults.

Research shows that a lack of activity in kids over the summer months can result in similar changes.

One study monitored school children over a 13-month period [5]. It found that although the number of overweight and obese children fell steadily across the academic year, the summer holidays completely undid this positive impact. More children returned to school overweight, obese, and less physically fit than they had been at the start of the previous academic year.

Yet the effects of this last far longer than the six-week break.

Obese children are more than twice as likely to die prematurely and are far more likely to develop conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression than children of a healthy weight [6].

The answer?

Get moving!

What gets measured gets done and setting some activity targets is a great way to ensure you and your kids keep moving.

Set a daily activity target or step goal for you and your family – why not even make it a competition to see who can do the most?!

Summer is also a great time to encourage the kids to take part in sports clubs and activity days. This may even end up freeing some time to exercise for yourself.

And don’t forget the power of walking.

Morning and late afternoon walks can be a useful option to break up the day and can help you avoid slipping into sedentary habits.

For most people, hitting a minimum of 10,000 steps per day is enough to keep things ticking over.

2. The kids come first…

Understandably, with schools closed during the summer months, caring for your children becomes the biggest priority and use of your time.

This often unfortunately means that you can often fall to the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits.

 

The answer?

It’s okay to put yourself first!

Don’t let your training and nutrition habits fall apart for two months. If you do, you could be missing out on huge steps forward in your progress.

If you’re following a fat loss goal, over the summer break it’s more than reasonable to achieve anywhere between 8-10% total body weight loss. That’s a massive opportunity to push forward towards your goal. And is that one you want to miss?

If you plan for something in your schedule, it’s much more likely to happen, so set aside time in the week where you can put yourself first for an hour or two (even 10 minutes is a win!).

Make the best use of the limited time you have by preparing meals in advance, filling the cupboards with healthy snacks, and perhaps even sneaking in a quick 30–45-minute home-based workout.

3. You’ve lost track of the day of the week

A change in environment and daily routine can have huge impacts on parents and their children’s health and physical fitness.

The structure of the school day firmly has firmly gone out the window and your main concern is now keeping them entertained… and, more importantly, quiet!

But what this means is that the kinds of behaviours that lead to obesity often increase, meaning it’s incredibly easy for children to put on weight.

Not only do kids perform less exercise, but they also tend to spend more time in front of their screens, go to sleep much later and typically do not eat as well as during term time [7].

The answer?

Set some ground rules.

We all know that kids love routine, so setting a new structure can help prevent the holidays descending into chaos.

One great way to do this is to create a family routine that involves daily exercise, either through sport, activity clubs, or simply going out for a long walk.

You can also help curb cravings by sticking to set mealtimes and taking the time to prepare well balanced meals that pack a nutritional punch.

And if getting the kids down to bed is an issue, try setting a screen time limit and aiming to stick to regular sleep and wake times (although this one may be easier said than done!).

4. Looking after the kids can be… overwhelming

Nobody will say that looking after kids during the summer holiday is an easy task. In fact, as a parent, it can be one of the most stressful times in the year.

That can leave you frazzled and tired… leaving you craving a glass of wine more than a healthy dinner.

The answer?

Be proactive with stress management

It may feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders but there are several effective strategies that can help to reduce your stress levels.

One of the best ways to manage stress is to ensure good quality sleep habits [8]. Try setting a bedtime alarm to trigger wind-down time (one that doesn’t involve booze to relax), limit screen time in the evening, and invest in blackout curtains or blinds in the bedroom.

Another way to reduce stress is, you guessed it, staying on top of your nutrition. And you’ll be glad to know that this doesn’t involve a super strict diet.

One study showed 40g dark chocolate per day helped reduce stress and anxiety [9]. That’s a stress management technique we can all get on board with!

Yet far and away one of the most underrated ways to blow away the cobwebs is to get out and move. Get some sunlight on your skin, some fresh air in your lungs, and get those legs moving.

There is also a ton of scientific evidence that walking promotes the release of endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood [10].

The best part is that you don’t have to march like a soldier on parade to reap its stress-relieving benefits. Even a stroll at a comfortable pace with the kids can promote relaxation.

5. Going off the rails

You’ve been killing it on the gym floor for the last few months, you’ve tightened up your diet, saying “no” to countless temptations, and you’ve been seeing the results.

In fact, you’re feeling amazing right now. And who wouldn’t?!

But you’ve got a niggling feeling, a worry about what’s around the corner.

You might even be scared that you’re about to undo all the hard work you’ve achieved so far and let it all go to waste…

 

The answer?

Set new goals

Firstly, don’t panic!

Although we often view maintenance as a lack of progress, in the summer months, being able to maintain your results is progress!

If you have kids to care for along with all your other life responsibilities, the summer holidays aren’t the time to push boundaries and set unrealistic targets. Aim to keep things simple, realistic, and consistent.

But all too often, people fail to reframe their goals to match their change in lifestyle, leading to a negative spiral of poor choices and behaviours.

If you’ve been following an intense fat loss program for a while and starting to mentally tire, the summer provides an opportunity to learn how to consolidate your progress.

So, take a bit of down time to mentally prepare and decompress. And once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, it’s a great time to sit down and set new goals.

For many, this can be as simple as aiming to maintain your weight within a given range.

Enjoy some foods and social activities you might have missed (in moderation), knowing that you can get back in the full swing of things once the holidays are over.

Hopefully you’re feeling motivated and confident that you can maintain some semblance of healthy living through the summer months.

But what about the kids?

We’ve got that covered too…

 

Active kids make for happier kids

There’s certainly no silver bullet to getting the kids through the summer holidays without a few tears and tantrums.

But keeping them active is a sure-fire way to keep them healthy (and hopefully tire them out too).

Here are just a few tips to help you through the school break.

 

1. Get the kids in the kitchen

Baking and cooking with the kids is a great opportunity.

Explore new foods, teach them how to prepare and cook healthy foods, and learn how to manage treat foods as part of a balanced approach to nutrition that doesn’t wreak havoc on your health or figure.

If you’re in need of some quick inspiration, we’ve got just the thing.

This high-protein pizza omelette recipe and banana and peanut butter protein ice cream sundae are just the thing to get the kids excited about food…

Minimal prep time, easily customisable for even the fussiest eaters and minimal chance of food poisoning or third-degree burns…

Not to mention they pack a seriously tasty and nutritious punch!

2. Avoid boredom and keep busy

Did you know that less than a quarter of children meet the physical activity guidelines of one hour per day? [11]

To keep the kids fit and healthy over the summer, take active days out on a regular basis and avoid spending too much time in the house.

And the added activity it not just beneficial for your waistline…

Not only will you all feel the benefits of regular exercise, you’ll avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of the summer holidays. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest causes of overeating at home is…

Boredom.

Picture the scene… you’re at home, there’s nothing on the TV, the housework is done and the kids are busy playing in their rooms.

For a short moment, there’s nothing to occupy you. Peace and quiet.

Usually what happens next is a trip to the kitchen to put the kettle on. While you wait for it to boil, you might have a quick glance through the fridge and cupboard.

In that moment, your brain has somehow decided that the best way to relieve boredom is to find something to eat.

You get a rush of dopamine, an intense feeling of reward and pleasure. But after a few moments, that sense of pleasure disappears, the guilt starts to kick in, and you’re left with the same feeling of boredom.

Sound familiar? Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Keep out of the house, keep your mind occupied, and keep your hands away from the fridge. That way you and your kids can maintain your health and fitness over the summer months while avoiding the inevitable damage of multiple trips to the kitchen.

3. Exercise with the kids

Exercising with the kids is a great opportunity for family bonding, creating lasting memories and teaching them positive attitudes towards leading an active and healthy lifestyle.

Not only does exercising with your kids benefit them physically, it encourages them to explore their physical capabilities, as well as boosting their mood and overall confidence.

Going for long hikes, learning to swim, riding a bike or learning how to run are all great summer activity options.

Even traditional garden games with an extra twist of activity can be effective at getting your kids moving. Most importantly, remember to keep it fun and engaging!

4 priceless tips to help parents survive the summer

If you’re going to get through the summer with your health, fitness and sanity intact, then you’re going to need a masterplan.

Here are four key tips that will set you up for successfully surviving the summer.

 

1. Make a Plan

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

As you will know already from the hard graft you’ve been putting in, creating structure helps to form new habits.

Over the summer, set aside time to plan activities for the following week and keep it varied, especially when it comes to daily exercise. You’ll be very familiar with how quickly kids get bored, so trying new things regularly can help to keep things interesting and varied.

When it comes to food, avoid spontaneous decisions by planning meals ahead of time. Planning ‘treat’ foods in advance (and working them into your weekly calories if you are tracking intake) will allow you some family-fun time around the dinner table without the dreaded guilt or shame of eating ‘bad’ foods.

2. Take care of yourself first

As a parent, it’s easy to put your needs to the bottom of the priority ladder. Channelling all your attention towards the kids is tiring and draining, so it’s no surprise that you feel there’s no time or energy to look after yourself!

Identify all the successful behaviours and habits that have got you this far. What do you need to do to keep this up?

It might be making sure the cupboards and fridge are filled with healthy foods, or even preparing meals in advance. And it may sound small, but even booking in an hour a week that’s just for ‘you’ time will also help you stay on top of things.

3. Make training an important part of your routine

If training is important to you, factor it into your daily schedule.

If time doesn’t allow you to get to the gym, it may be worthwhile investing in a few pairs of dumbbells, a bench and some resistance bands so that you can train at home.

And don’t worry if you can’t get a full hour to yourself – even a quick 10–20-minute circuit each day is better than nothing.

If you need some quick inspiration, we’ve got five workouts you can build into your routine, no matter what level of equipment you have available.

Bodyweight complex 1

Bodyweight complex 2

Resistance band circuit

Dumbbell-only complex 1 (5 exercise circuit)

Dumbbell-only complex 2 (5 exercise circuit)

 

4. Take advantage of friends and family

You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to spend a bit of time on yourself and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask for help.

If you are lucky enough to have a supportive network of friends and family, use them to your full advantage to give you a chance to recharge and maybe even squeeze in a visit to the gym.

The take-home

If you’re a parent, the summer holidays can be a stressful time, where health and fitness falls right down the pecking order. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Keep yourself and the kids active, get them excited about cooking healthy food and don’t forget to take some time for you to refresh, recharge and care for your own health.

And if you need support and accountability to do that, that’s where we come in. Enquire with Ultimate Performance today and find out how we can help.

 

References

[1] Watson, A., et al. (2019). Life on holidays: study protocol for a 3-year longitudinal study tracking changes in children’s fitness and fatness during the in-school versus summer holiday period. BMC Public Health, pg. 1353.

[2] Weaver, R.G., et al. (2020). The impact of summer vacation on children’s obesogenic behaviors and body mass index: a natural experiment. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 17, pg. 153.

[3] 24th European Congress on Obesity (ECO2017), Porto, Portugal, May 17-20, 2017: Abstracts. (2017). Obesity facts, 10 Supplement 1(Supplement 1), 1–274. Advance online publication.

[4] Cuthbertson, D.J., et al. (2021) Short-Term Physical Inactivity Induces Endothelial Dysfunction. Frontiers in Physiology. 9, pg. 12.

[5] Mann S, et al. (2020) One-year surveillance of body mass index and cardiorespiratory fitness in UK primary school children in Northwest England and the impact of school deprivation level. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 105, pp. 999-1003.

[6] House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee (2018), ‘Childhood obesity: Time for action, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19’.

[7] Weaver, R.G., et al., (2020) The impact of summer vacation on children’s obesogenic behaviours and body mass index: a natural experiment. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 17, pg.153.

[8] Choi, D. W., et al. (2018) Association between Sleep Duration and Perceived Stress: Salaried Worker in Circumstances of High Workload. International journal of environmental research and public health. 15(4), pg. 796.

[9] Martin, F. J., et al. (2009) Metabolic effects of dark chocolate consumption on energy, gut microbiota, and stress-related metabolism in free-living subjects. Journal of Proteome Research. 8, pp. 5568–5579.

[10] Matzer, F., et al. (2018) Combining walking and relaxation for stress reduction—A randomized cross‐over trial in healthy adults. Stress and Health, 34(2), pp.266-277.

[11] Public Health England (2017). Number of children getting enough physical activity drops by 40%. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-of-children-getting-enough-physical-activity-drops-by-40 [Accessed 01.07.22].

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