Running is one of the healthiest and fastest growing sports and as someone who has been a runner pretty much all my life (so admittedly biased) it is easy to see why this is the case. At the most basic level it is one of the simplest, purest and most accessible sports out there. It is simply about having a decent pair of shoes, some basic kit and putting one foot in front of the other as fast as you can!
It is also a sport that you can tailor to your own exact needs/requirements. You can run for fun, to lose weight, to make friends, to compete over a 5km or marathon or anything in between, to get some alone time, to set yourself up for the day ahead or to unwind from the stress of the day... the list is endless. It is also one of the few sports where you can truly share an event with many thousands of other runners. You all go through the experience together and form a bond and a camaraderie that is pretty much unique to running.
Recently my family and I were lucky enough to get the chance to visit Walt Disney World in Florida and take part Disney's RunDisney events. It was wonderful to see so many people having so much fun and taking part in the events and to be able to celebrate with them in the carnival atmosphere of the races. We all got unique opportunity to run around the parks, into the Magic Kingdom in the dark and see Cinderella Castle lit up magically ahead.
It was so much fun to see so many people having fun and achieving their own personal goals. I enjoyed it even more because I was able to share something that I love so much with my children. Both took part in the kid's races and loved them, for my son meeting Mickey at the finish was a huge highlight, as of course were the special character medals. With my daughter, Isla (nine), I was able to share running the first event of the challenge - the 5km. She ran extremely well and loved taking part in such a great event, taking in the sights of the Epcot and her favourite part were the cheers and encouragements of the other runners and spectators.
That for me is one of the best and most beautiful characteristics about runners and running events. It genuinely is like one big family sharing a common interest. The runners are hugely supportive and encouraging to all the other runners around them. People running well are applauded and those going through a rough patch are encouraged and helped through it. I truly believe that runners are on the whole, extremely friendly, sympathetic, and thoughtful people.
Maybe it is as simple as the 'feel good' endorphins released while running, maybe it is simply an appreciation for feeling alive and being able to enjoy that feeling of getting the best out of your body and mind and be in tune with your body. This is backed up by the huge amounts regularly raised for charities at running events.
One of my biggest passions is encouraging as many children and families as possible to be physically active. It is why I am hugely honoured to be supporting Disney's #HealthilyEverAfter campaign which aims to encourage discussion around the challenges parents face and invite their thoughts on how to motivate children to live more healthily. Giving a child the tools to get the most from themselves and inspiring them to live a happy healthy life is the biggest gift that you can give. Research shows how being physically active teaches children to understand their own bodies, to work as a team, to overcome obstacles and to have more compassion for others.
Besides of course being generally healthier and stronger, it has also been proven that physically active children perform and achieve better at school and go on to better careers and to contribute more to society. As a mother I am passionate about the fact that my children are active every day and eat healthily. I believe it should be totally up to them as to which sport they choose and which level they take it to, that is why I try to give them the opportunity to try as many sports as possible. By trying many sports and activities, or trying out for different teams, I hope that they will find the one that lights a passion for them. If we really enjoy doing something then we are far more likely to persevere through tough times and stick with it and we will also get far more out of it.
It is also wonderful to be able to be active together as a family. At home I like getting the kids to bike or scoot while I run or creating an exercise trail with different fun activities at different stations. Just as family meal times help the whole family to get quality time together as well as develop healthy eating habits, so can doing fun, physical activities together bring everyone together and make the family unit stronger as well as healthier. It's a cliché but the family that exercises together, grows stronger together. It also makes it more fun and far more likely that the whole family will motivate each other and stick with it. It introduces variety since no doubt each member of the family will have their own preferred activity!
For me the key factors are that it must be fun and to keep everything in balance. If something is fun then we get so much more from it, are far more likely to stick with it and create life patterns, and also it is clearly evident to those watching how much we enjoy it and thus they are motivated to try it. It is also very important to keep things in balance, more is not always better, very little is truly bad in moderation! As with everything, we shouldn't get obsessed with the activity or the healthy eating side of things.
How do you encourage your family to live HealthilyEverAfter? Share your ideas below or on social media using the hashtag #HealthilyEverAfter. For more information visit www.disneyhealthyliving.co.uk
Paula is an ambassador for the RunDisney half-marathon event in Disneyland Paris which takes place 23-25 September 2016. For more information visit http://www.rundisney.com/
Paula's Top Ten Tips for living #HealthilyEverAfter
1. Share exercise and activity as a family
2. Make it fun and varied
3. Make meal-times family time and also let children contribute and learn why they eat the food
4. Encourage children to try as many activities as possible to find their "one"
5. Support your child in their sport/activity but don't 'push' them
6. Make time each day for just unwinding and play time but also for being active in any shape or form
7. Share the planning too so children feel they have a role in meal choices and family outing choices
8. Cook and bake together and learn why different ingredients are good for us
9. Build healthy activity into the day, walk, bike or scoot to school etc.
10. Harness the competitive nature, have family ranking for activity levels and healthy choices.