Life

Olympic athlete Denise Lewis urges families to exercise

Are your children up and at it in terms of sport and fitness or are they among the increasing number who do very little exercise? Olympic gold medallist and TV presenter Denise Lewis is fronting a campaign to get kids exercising in a fun way – but they'll need mums' and dads' help, she tells Lisa Salmon

Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis is encouraging children to try 10 Minute Shake Up, a series of 10-minute games and activities to help them work towards the 60 minutes of physical activity it's recommended children do every day
Lisa Salmon (PA)

AFTER helping present the BBC coverage of the World Athletics Championships, former heptathlete Denise Lewis has turned her attention to something even more important – getting children active.

The Olympic gold medallist has joined forces with Change4Life, Sport England and Disney to encourage kids to try 10 Minute Shake Up, a series of 10-minute games and activities to help them work towards the 60 minutes of physical activity it's recommended children do every day.

Just 23 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls meet this recommended activity target, and one in five children starts primary school overweight or obese, rising to more than a third by the time they leave.

Mum-of-three Denise, who won heptathlon gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, says: "Being active isn't just for Olympians, it's something that everyone – no matter their age, ability or interests – can and should take part in.

"It's alarming so few boys and girls are hitting their physical activity target, so we want to kickstart children into being more active. The focus is running, jumping, throwing, catching and coordination – the basics, hence why I got involved, as obviously those are things I know very well.''

:: Kids are more likely to be active if their parents are

The 10 Minute Shake Ups offer fun activities inspired by an array of Disney characters. "The activities are very simple and the whole family can get moving together,'' explains Denise (44).

Denise tries the Shake Ups herself in a short video in which she's coached mercilessly by a seven-year-old girl. "The kids in the video wore me out,'' says the sporty mum, who has a daughter aged 15 and two boys, aged eight and 11.

"As a mum, I know how important being a role model is to keeping my family active and healthy. Right from the get-go with my children they've seen me going for a run, being part of athletics, doing circuits, and it's almost like osmosis. It's easier with a sporty parent – children will usually follow suit.''

A survey by Public Health England and Disney found 57 per cent of children said they were more likely to be active if their parents were – although the main motivation for kids was having friends join in (53 per cent).

"Sporty parents will encourage their children to be active,'' says Denise. "The real challenge is children who don't have active parents – how do you get those guys involved as well?''

:: Start by making activities easy

Denise suggests the key is to make activity easy at first, hence the bite-size, 10-minute chunks parents can join in with; playing simple balloon games, for example.

"Just 10 minutes sounds do-able to anybody. You can fit it into your day and, if you're enjoying it, perhaps you'll build it up and before you know it the kids have hit the target of an hour a day.

"You realise that just getting the heart rate increased is doing everyone's bodies the world of good.''

:: Being active is such a confidence boost – for all ages

Activity also helps psychologically. The survey found being active made the majority of those aged five to 11 feel happier (79 per cent), more confident (72 per cent), and more sociable (74 per cent).

And while Denise admits it would be "fantastic'' if the 10 Minute Shake-Ups put children on the path to becoming top athletes, that's not really what the programme's about.

"If we get an Olympian out of this, I would love it,'' she says, "but this is about the bigger picture of having exercise and activity as part of your lifestyle.''

And 17 years after winning Olympic gold, activity is still very much part of Denise's life. She runs, cycles and does circuits and weight training.

"I exercise now for that space in my mind – and also so I can maintain my jeans size,'' she admits. "I don't feel the pressure like I used to. It's about that time away from being a busy mum.''

Denise is optimistic about what sport can offer in terms of example for youngsters, particularly women's sport.

"There are a lot of positive role models for young women, inspiring other women to want to get involved. That's a great antidote to the negative images I see, like the selfies girls my daughter's age take – it's all they seem to think about.

"Let's get them thinking about being active instead.''

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