Keeping children active from a young age sets them up for a lifetime of healthy living. Squeezing physical activity into your family’s busy life may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Help your child get the recommended one hour of physical activity per day by incorporating exercise into your family’s daily life.
“An hour of exercise doesn’t have to be spent in the gym,” says Gwendolyn Wright, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. “Look at exercise as fun and an integral component of leading an active lifestyle, not as one more chore on your list.”
Not sure where to start? Check out these creative tips to build healthy fun into your family’s daily routine.
Walking is a fantastic activity for the whole family and one of the easiest ways to be physically active. Walk as often as possible: to school, the park, the store or the local taco stand.
“Walking is a great way to pass on healthy habits to your children or grandchildren and spend social time together,” says Dr. Wright. “If you have a baby or a toddler, use the stroller and point out items that might interest them, such as flowers, animals or cars.”
Kids love playing in the dirt, so get them involved in gardening. Let them help you turn over the soil and plant bulbs or flowers. Take them to the garden shop and let them pick out which plants or flowers appeal to them. Growing vegetables and fruits also teaches them about where fresh food comes from and how good it tastes.
“Gardening as a family has the added benefit of connecting children with nature, stimulating their creativity, and inspiring them to eat the healthy foods they grow,” says Dr. Wright.
Old-fashioned playtime outdoors keeps kids fit and healthy—and is a simple way to have fun as a family. Throw or kick a ball around or throw a Frisbee in the back yard, at the local park or at the beach. In addition to being fun, ball and Frisbee games teach hand-eye coordination.
“Exercising as a family shouldn’t be complicated,” says Dr. Wright. “The more fun you can make it, the more you’ll want to keep it up.”
Bicycling can be enjoyed most of the year by all ages and is a great way to bond outdoors. Choose bike paths that are in your child’s comfort zone at first, away from traffic, and make sure everyone has a bike helmet that fits correctly. Check the American Academy of Pediatrics site for more information on bike helmets.
Pay attention to your child’s cues as you ride and stop for breaks to see the sights, stretch or have a snack when you notice your child is tired and lagging behind.
“Be enthusiastic and go for regular rides. Remember that the goal is to have fun and be active, not distance, speed, endurance or perfect technique,” says Dr. Wright.
Team up with your kids to increase your heart rate and strengthen muscles by using your local playground as a circuit course. Use the park bench for tricep dips, overhead bars or a set of rings for hanging crunches, and the swings for leg lifts. Get creative and ask your kids what they would recommend.
Turn chore-time into fun-time by turning them into a game. Play music and dance around while cleaning up—see if your kids can finish dusting by the end of their favorite song. Set a timer and see who can get their room cleaned up before it buzzes, or who can gather up their dirty laundry and put it in the clothes hamper the fastest.
There are myriad races for families, from bubble runs to color and hot chocolate runs. Many race series include fun runs for kids, as well as the distance races for adults. For instance the Mermaid Half Marathon in San Diego includes a 1.5-mile dash for girls 6- to 12-years-old, and those younger than 6 can be pushed in the longer races in a stroller.
The Disney parks host a diaper dash for crawlers 12 months and younger, 100-, 200- and 400-yard dashes for youngsters, and one-mile runs for the older group.
“When exercise is a regular part of family life, everyone wins,” says Dr. Wright. “Being a role model and setting a healthy example is one of the best ways to inspire healthy kids. Showing your children that exercise is fun and a priority helps pass on a legacy of health.”