Keep Kids Active

A jam-packed schedule is no excuse not to exercise. Instead of stressing about finding time for organized sports or the gym, get your workout through some wholesome family fun. Here are some ideas to get you all going.

Go On a Treasure Hunt

Here’s a great way to keep the family fit and teach your kids about trust, teamwork, and problem solving at the same time. Take them to a local park and set an expedition course on a map, circling various “checkpoints.” Take turns navigating to each point on the map and leading the team to each destination. “Start out with an easy course in an open park and then progress to a trail system,” suggests Jenny Hadfield, a Chicago-based fitness coach and author of Marathoning for Mortals. “Stay together and explore terrain features, study map clues, and look for the secret treasure.” Sound too complicated? Then merely go hunting for bugs, animals, or flowers. You can’t entertain a young kid much better than finding a colorful salamander under a log or rock.

Train for School Fitness Tests as a Family

Learn which fitness tests your child is required to pass in physical education class and train for them as a family. Set goals, such as running a quarter-mile and then a half and then a full mile in a certain amount of time—and reward each family member for meeting each goal.

Hold a Sports Party

Rather than the typical pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey birthday party, hold your child’s birthday party in an active location, such as a roller-skating or ice-skating rink, laser tag center, wall-climbing gym, or indoor playground center. You don’t have to limit this to parties. A growing number of indoor playgrounds offer such structured games weekly. Or you can have your own “no particular reason” party. Kids won’t think of what they’re doing as exercise—but it is.

Play Follow the Leader

Line up single file and weave your way through the house or backyard. Every few steps, hop, skip, do the grapevine or some other movement that your followers must imitate. Once the kids get the hang of the game, let them take turns as leader. Their naturally creative minds will come up with all sorts of fun movements for the followers to imitate. You’ll be out of breath before you know it.

Wash the Car Together

The scrubbing is good exercise, but everyone getting wet and soapy is just plain fun for kids.  

Plan a Garden Together

As you dig holes, plant seeds, and pull weeds, you’ll build your child’s and your upper body strength. As an added bonus, research shows children are more likely to eat the vegetables they help grow, which means your gardening forays will help your child follow a more nutritious diet.

Take a Bimonthly Hike

Grab a backpack, plenty of water (everyone should drink 8 ounces every half-hour), and a light lunch and head to a local trail for a hiking expedition. Wear hiking boots for rocky terrain or sneakers for smoother trails, and pack sunscreen and insect repellent. To make this more fun for kids, make it about something else, such as looking for a particular animal or bird, climbing to see a lake or pond, or seeing how many rocks you can scamper over without touching the ground. Kids like hiking much better when they don’t realize it’s about hiking! Bring a picnic, of course; this is a great opportunity to share a delicious but healthful meal and cultivate good family eating habits.

Dance During Commercial Breaks

Make it a family rule that whenever you watch television, you have to stand up and dance around during the commercials. This goes for everyone! Whoever gets caught sitting on the couch during a commercial break must perform his or her least-liked household chore for one week.

Take Your Kids for a Wagon Ride

Place small children in a wagon and pull them around the neighborhood. As you pull the wagon, you can get an upper body workout by mimicking typical exercises you would do in a gym. For example, you can walk backward as you pull the wagon, bringing your hands toward your shoulders to simulate a biceps curl. You can walk sideways—doing the grapevine—as you lift and lower your arm out to the side. When you walk forward, bend and extend your elbows for triceps presses. You can also raise your bent elbows toward your shoulders to mimic upright rows. Plus, to make it a better workout for the kids, have them get out of the wagon and walk periodically.