After spending several hours a day at a desk job or sitting in traffic while shuttling over scheduled kids from one activity to the next, it’s tempting for families to want to spend their downtime plopped on the couch. The next time you find yourself with an hour or so of unscheduled free time, grab the kids and get moving. Research shows that families that work out together are more likely to stick with it, since they can motivate and encourage each other. And exercising as a family has multiple benefits, from being able to spend quality time with those you love and committing to an active lifestyle, to reducing stress and increasing energy levels. But you don’t have to call it exercise. Here are six activities that let families play together, and promote fit and healthy lifestyles.
- Play in the park. Grab an assortment of balls and equipment from the garage (soccer ball, football, basketball, and baseball and gloves), along with a Frisbee and the family dog. Pack a cooler with some water and snacks, and head to your local park with the family for an afternoon of fresh air and playtime. You’ll all have so much fun that you won’t even realize you’re getting a workout.
- Go swimming. Swimming is a great way to stay in shape. It’s an excellent workout for people of all ages. Depending on the time of year and where you live, you can head to your local indoor or outdoor pool for fun and affordable family playtime. Swimming helps improve balance, endurance, and posture, and it’s one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise. Swimming regularly can also increase self-esteem in kids as they become more comfortable in the water and learn to master their strokes. Get some rings and diving sticks, and take turns diving for them. If your kids are young, sign them up for swimming lessons—they can get their lessons while you work out in the lap lanes. Be sure young kids are never left unattended, and remember the sunscreen if you’re outside!
- Take a hike. A family hike involves a little more planning than other activities, but the benefits are well worth it. Plan the trail level and hike length around the group’s abilities and experience. If it’s your first family hike, start with a mostly flat trail that’s no more than 1 mile round-trip (you don’t want to start carrying your kids halfway through the hike). Gradually increase the length and trail difficulty with each hike. Bring a few lightweight backpacks with healthy snacks and water bottles. Keep the kids interested by letting them carry the trail map, and having them look for specific items, like interesting wildflowers or rock formations. Most metropolitan towns have family friendly trails offering easy to moderately difficult hiking trails. To find a trail near you, visit LocalHikes.com.
- Go for a bike ride. A family bike ride is a great way to get out of the house and get a workout at the same time. Cycling is also one of the best ways to tone and strengthen the upper leg and calf muscles. Turn a family bike ride into an outing by biking to a specific destination (maybe the corner ice cream shop for frozen yogurt?). Make sure everyone wears a helmet and the appropriate gear. And follow the rules of the road!
- Jump rope. Rope jumping dates back to 1,600 AD, when the Egyptians used vines for jumping. Nowadays, it’s a great way to burn off energy, reduce stress, improve coordination and endurance, and sing your favorite rhyming songs. Jumping rope at a moderate pace can burn up to 800 calories an hour. For variety, try double Dutch, which is when a person jumps through two jump ropes at the same time. Or invite the neighbors over and have a jump-roping contest, and follow up with an assortment of healthy snacks. You just might start a new tradition.
A Few More Tips for Staying Fit as a Family
- Get a pedometer for every member of the family. The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day to stay heart-healthy. Have a family contest and see who can log the most steps in a day.
- Invest in a family membership at your local YMCA or recreation center. That way, everyone can work out in any kind of weather; you can choose from various activities that will appeal to individual talents and interests.
- Let the kids take turns choosing a family activity that promotes fitness, and make sure everyone participates!