Making fitness a family affair
Keeping it simple and fun is the key to making fitness part of the family routine.
By GreatSchools Staff
Children learn from the example that parents provide: If you read, they'll read; If you eat healthy food, they 'll eat healthy food; and if you exercise regularly, so will they. Or better yet, why not get everybody to engage in physical fitness activities together? The key to successful family fitness is to keep it simple and fun for everyone. Make your activities a family tradition that everyone will look forward to.
Even moderate physical activity (combined with a healthy diet) will help protect members of your family from heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Physical fitness activities are a great way to relieve stress (i.e., fewer sibling fights) and send oxygen to the brain, which means exercising regularly could help keep peace at home and boost academic performance.
Before you start on your renewed commitment to fitness, be sure that everyone in your family has the go-ahead from your family doctor. Always increase your physical activity gradually to avoid straining muscles and injury. Be sure to stretch and drink plenty of water, too.
Simple activities for getting fit
You don't have to join a gym or spend a lot of money to stay fit. All you need are a good pair of athletic shoes, and if you must, some inexpensive equipment — a ball, rope, and stick — and off you go! Get the whole family involved in these simple and fun physical fitness activities in the great outdoors.
Aim for 10,000 steps a day
The U.S. surgeon general recommends that everyone walk or run at least 10,000 steps a day. What a great way to use your math skills while keeping fit!
Buy a simple pedometer and have each member of the family wear it for a day and then compare notes on how many steps you walked. Talk about how you could gradually increase that number. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
When possible take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Walk instead of driving, especially for short distances.
Don't park too close to your destination. When you go to the mall or the grocery store, park far away from the store in the parking lot. This will force everyone to walk a little more.
Do chores together. Wash the car, rake some leaves, work in the garden.
Take the family on a walk. Make a habit of taking a family walk in the neighborhood, in or around a park or to a destination (the mailbox, your school, a friend's house). Or incorporate one of these types of transport into your neighborhood tour: roller skates, rollerblades, bicycles or skateboards. (Be sure to wear helmets and the necessary padding.)
Take a walk or run on a local school track. Count your laps!
Get on your bikes and go. Biking is a great family activity. You can start out on short neighborhood rides and build up to rides on local bike trails. Be sure everyone wears a helmet for safety. To learn about some great places to bike as a family, and how to select the right equipment, check out GORP's Family Biking resource.
Go on a treasure hunt in your neighborhood. Compile a list of "simple treasures" to hunt for on your walk: a leaf with beautiful colors, a shiny penny, a can to be recycled. Or make a list of things to notice as you walk: Find a house with a red door. Look for a specific kind of car parked in a driveway. What else might you hunt for? Have everyone in your family contribute "treasures" to hunt for on your list.
Play catch. It may sound simple, but try some of these variations or create your own:
- Play catch with different sizes and shapes of balls, or a Frisbee.
- Play catch at gradually increasing distances.
- Play paddle ball.
- Have an old-fashioned egg toss. Start close and gradually increase your distance in throwing the egg from one person to another.
- Play footbag (also known as "Hacky Sack"). Check out the rules here.
Take a walk with the American Volkssport Association (AVA). The AVA's network of 350 walking clubs organizes more than 3000 walking events per year in all 50 states, as well as occasional bikes, skis and swims.
The club, run almost completely by volunteers, has branches in cities across the United States and Europe. They schedule trail walk events where groups walk together in rural and urban areas, many at sites of historical interest or fun places like the local zoo. New members are welcome but you don't have to be a member to participate in one of their walks.
The walks range in difficulty, from one (easiest) to five (hardest) and all ages are welcome. Generally, a flier and map are provided, with commentary on what you will see as you walk. Most walks are six miles or less, and take an hour or two at most to complete. The walks, generally free of charge, are fun to do in places close to home, as well as when you travel. "We have walks in lots of fun places," says AVA Executive Director Jackie Wilson. "You can learn what a city is really about when you take one of our walks. The guided walks even note points of interest, such as the best ice cream places!"
AVA also publishes a book of self-guided trails, called the Year-Round Event Book. Achievement-oriented types can enroll in the group's Individual Achievement Award Program. You can purchase a Distance and Event Record Book for $5 at any event. For every walk that you complete, you get a stamp. There are prizes for completing 10 events, 30 events, 50 events, 500 kilometers, 1,000 kilometers, etc. You can also redeem your Record Book for a Certificate of Achievement, a patch and a hatpin, and your accomplishment is printed in The American Wanderer, their national publication.
To get started, check the AVA Web site to find a club near you.