A regular dilemma for many parents is the balance of being away from their kids when at work or engaging in personal hobbies, and the guilt that can accompany that. But when spending time with the kids, you might be thinking of all the work you still need to do and want to get some exercise in. Why not make exercise something the whole family can be a part of, making it something to do to spend more time together and promote everyone’s health and well-being?
Exercise has the same benefits for adults and for kids, too! Exercise benefits all ages, and can help with improvements to cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety/depression, improved energy, alertness, ability to focus, and sleep. If that sounds good to you, think of the added benefit of both you and your kids seeing these changes. General recommendations for kids between the ages of 6 and 18 are that kids should be getting around 60 minutes of moderate activity a day. Before you get overwhelmed, know that there is little structure to this recommendation, allowing for the freedom and flexibility needed to help kids find what they enjoy and to do varying types of exercise.
Here are some ways to think of getting the whole family involved for the next workout.
Plan when possible
One of the best ways to start enticing your kids to be active is to make sure you are being active yourself. You want to model the behavior of making time and prioritizing health and activity for your kids, and it is important to show them that their health (and yours) is something worth working on and working towards (1). Find ways to create a routine. Easy routines can consist of after-dinner walks, family competitions at the park (basketball, soccer, softball, tennis), or to heading down to the local pool during the week. Don’t be intimidated by the 60 minutes a day, it really doesn’t need to be hours at a time. Can you spare 10 minutes, 15 minutes right now? Great! Make those small moments add up, but there is no need to fall for the old tale that it’s all or nothing. Aim for is just doing anything because something is better than nothing.
Try new things
It’s important to pick age-appropriate activities, as some kids may be able to go for a mile hike and carry their own supplies, but others may be looking forward to some backyard workouts or obstacle courses at the local park. We might be trying to steer our kids away from screen time, and while that can potentially be a positive thing, don’t be afraid to embrace their technology. Several video games can keep you and your kids moving, such as Wii Sports, Ring Fit Adventure, Just Dance, and other motion-oriented games. Some game consoles make workout class games, including Zumba or yoga classes. There are also lots of free guided videos online, and you can find a favorite YouTube channel, or use apps like Peloton, which all have family sections for workouts(2). With time and planning, you can make weekend activities a little bigger or longer to get in some extra movement. Each weekend, let a different family member pick the activity of their choice. That way everyone gets in something they like, and everyone gets some variety. Provide a list of activities you have equipment for or are will willing to invest in like hiking, swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboard, local 5k, biking, and more (1).
Have fun with it
Perhaps the number one rule or guidance to make exercise a habit for the whole family is to make it fun! Get your children involved in the decision-making, support imagination by making new games, or use old children’s toys and workout equipment in new ways. Bond with family members while talking on a hike. Be willing to invest in yourself and your health if you’re trying to teach your kids those habits too. Involving them and making them see the value and fun of exercise can set them up for a lifetime of exercising and healthy habits.
Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website
- Bryandt, C. (2020, September 14). How to Make Physical Activity a Family Affair. U.S.News. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/how-to-make-physical-activity-a-family-affair
- Mathews, C. (2015, October 13). 6 Gym-Free Ways to Work Out as a Family. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/6-gym-free-ways-to-work-out-as-a-family#1