Want to Encourage Family Fitness? Try These Simple, Mostly Free Ideas
With increasingly demanding and sedentary lifestyles, the impact on the health of American adults and children is beginning to show. Many parents are concerned about the poor state of their own and their children’s health, but can’t find ways to work a family fitness program into their busy schedules.
Obesity rates for young children and adults have doubled since the early 1970s, and for pre-adolescents, it has quadrupled. In the same time frame, the rate of teen obesity has risen from 6 to 18 percent. Being overweight doesn’t just affect health, it also impacts mood, mental health, self-confidence, and overall happiness in people of all ages.
A family fitness program doesn’t have to be overly regulated or complicated to implement. There are fun ways to incorporate healthy activity into your life in ways that fit in with all the items on your to-do list. Devising an exercise program that is fun, simple, and focuses on activities that you and your children enjoy the most is the easiest and most stress-free way to improve your family’s health.
Benefits of a Family Fitness Routine
There seems to be a constant stream of new evidence supporting a family fitness program every week.
- A new study shows that just one hour of light exercise a week reduces the chance of depression.
- A short period of physical activity during the day at school helped children perform better on academic tasks.
With children now spending more than seven hours a day in front of a screen, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, it’s no wonder that rates of depression and inability to concentrate in school have skyrocketed. Although the American diet has become much less healthy over the last 40 years, the lack of physical activity has done wide-spread damage to our mental and emotional health as well.
Everyday Family Fitness Tweaks
Depending on the age of your child, you’ll likely get negative responses if you summarily announce that you’re going to start a family fitness routine. You may meet with resistance or scorn. It’s easy to over-plan and itemize when setting up a new regimen but resist the temptation to micromanage the process. It should be fun.
You should be adding something fun to your child’s day, not taking something good away. Don’t tell them that they’re going to lose video gaming time in order to exercise. Rather, introduce a fun physical activity as just another fun thing you’re going to do that day. The eventual result may be that they have less time for gaming because you spent it walking the dog or kicking a soccer ball around together. Your child won’t notice if they’re having fun.
You can also sneak increased activity throughout the day. It may take a little longer, but walking together and working together is a great way to spend real, mindful time with your family.
- Park farther away from stores or school to increase the distance you and your family walk.
- Walk them to school or the bus stop instead of driving. Weather permitting, make time to walk your child to the bus stop.
- Take them grocery shopping with you and have them help lift and carry items. They’ll feel like they are contributing, learn about nutrition and money, and get in some extra exercise.
- Make a game out of cleaning up before bed; you can all hustle to get things cleaned up, so there’s time to read a book before lights out.
- Let them help more around the house. Even if they’re not proficient, they’ll get more activity. They can help put things away, empty trash, and even sweep.
Ways To Exercise as a Family
Families need time together to bond and stay connected, and nothing builds teamwork like cooperative sports. Depending on the age of your children, this could range from something as simple as a quick game of foursquare to a regular date to shoot some hoops. You want to consider the age and agility of your child before creating a family fitness program.
For small children, just rolling a ball across the lawn to each other might be all they’re ready for. For teens, you may have unleashed a full-fledged competitor. Whatever your child’s age or ability, a short game that includes running, jumping, and using balls, sticks, or other sports equipment is a good investment into both gross and fine motor skills. And if you have a desk job, it probably wouldn’t hurt you, either.
Age Appropriate Family Fitness Ideas
No child should be made to feel bad for not being strong or agile enough for some sports or activities. After all, every child develops at their own pace. Young children shouldn’t feel pressured by parents or siblings to learn or excel at games that require more endurance or motor skills than they possess. But, it’s also not fair to expect your budding middle schooler to always play “baby games” that don’t challenge them enough physically or mentally, just so your kindergartner can keep up. The point of a family fitness program is to be active and have fun together. It helps to choose activities that everyone can participate in without holding anyone else back.
4 Great Ideas for Active Family Activities
- Go for a walk together after dinner. Start off with a short 10-minute walk and increase the distance over time. Take a stroller for little ones if necessary. Take the family dog. The important part is to enjoy the journey and the scenery while improving family fitness.
- Have sports night once a week. Along with movie night, you should also have a sports night, too. Or sports afternoon. Go down to the local park with some tennis balls and rackets from Goodwill, and hit tennis balls to each other. Or try your footwork out on the soccer field and practice dribbling, passing, and shooting at the net. It doesn’t matter if any of you are any good. Small children can chase balls; older children can play goalie and show off their skills.
- Go to a pick your own farm. If one of these farms is near you, take advantage of the chance to work together as a team, harvesting fruits and vegetables. It’s a great day out in the fresh air that most families can do together. As a bonus, after the workout, you have bushels of fresh healthy food to boot.
- Family gardening days are a great way to get outside, get the yard work done, and get in some exercise. Small children can pick up debris, fetch things, and plant and water vegetables and flowers. Older children can pick weeds, rake leaves, and push wheelbarrows. Teens can mow lawns and run trimmers with proper and patient training. Then you can reward yourselves for creating a beautiful yard by spending it together with mugs of hot chocolate on the porch in winter, or dinner by the pool (in the summer).
Find A Family Fitness Center
Another option is to find a fitness center or recreational center that offers fun activities for the whole family. The YMCA is an old standard when it comes to sports programs and fitness classes suitable for everyone. The YMCA is a worldwide organization with over 170 years of history. Although initially a religious group, it has evolved into a more secular organization that works in the United States and Canada as a community support and recreational program. They also run childcare centers and summer camps. Search online for the YMCA center near you for a full list of fun fitness and sports programs.
Many U.S. counties also have recreation departments with centers located throughout their district. These programs run informal sports programs for children. They also hold weight training and aerobic classes for adults. Most maintain playgrounds, exercise rooms, and swimming pools that families can enjoy for free or for a small fee. Plan a visit with your family y to your local county recreation center to check out the running tracks, basketball courts, and even skate parks. Some counties have something for everyone, including dog parks for your canine family members.
Build Your Own Family Fitness Center
You can even create your own family fitness center, if you have the room. For small children, start with residential size playground equipment in the backyard for them to climb on. If your yard is big enough, you can add a running track for relay races or laps. For older children, you can add a soccer net or a badminton net. Both are inexpensive and easy to install.
For summertime, add some water activities to the backyard. If your children have been trained to swim safely, you can find an easy-to-setup portable pool big enough to swim laps and do water aerobics for less than $600. For small children, an inflatable pool is perfect for staying cool and playing games during the hotter months.
Turn that family TV room into a family gym for everyone. Pare down the space for TV and video games, and put down inexpensive floor mats for yoga or simple gymnastic exercises. Make sure everyone can get into the family fitness routine with an inexpensive set of barbells for teens and adults to increase their muscle mass and pump up those biceps.
You must always exercise caution with exercise equipment around small children, so make sure that they’re supervised closely near any pools or weights for safety.
You can find fun workouts for every age to keep you and your whole family fit and healthy. But, remember to focus on the most important part of putting together an exercise routine. The most important part is to have fun and spend time together. Incorporate your family fitness routine in graded steps and don’t nag or pressure. Mix up the routine by making sure that there are activities that allow you to talk together as well as more strenuous exercises. Choose exercises that work both mind and body, gross and fine muscle coordination. Don’t be afraid to instill a little friendly competition between family members, but don’t allow anyone to bully or belittle others. Try new activities every once in awhile to keep it fresh and interesting and soon, you’ll forget that all of this is supposed to be good for you, too.
Featured Image: CC0 Public Domain by cleberaraujo182 via Pixabay.