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Making fitness a family affair

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By GreatSchools Staff

Old-fashioned family fitness

Remember the good old days when kids used to run outside to play hopscotch, baseball or jump rope? Keeping fit was just a natural part of having fun. With the help of staff and youth organizations across the country, Rose Kennedy has gathered a variety of old and new games and activities into a book brimming with fitness activities, The Family Fitness Fun Book: Healthy Living for the Whole Family (Healthy Living Books, 2005).

The key to fun family fitness, she says, is to "Keep it simple and fun. If it is not something you can easily do all the time, you won't do it." She recommends not discussing weight issues or health benefits. You are more likely to encounter resistance if you say, "This will be good for you." Chances are if the activities are fun, everyone in the family will look forward to doing them, and the health benefits will be a natural result.

Family fitness night. Kennedy suggests having a regular time during the week for family fitness activities but cautions families to make it an "add-on" activity rather than a substitute for watching TV. Why not let the kids stay up a half-hour later on family fitness night? That way it becomes something special, a privilege that they will look forward to.

Kennedy likes games that are a little goofy, that involve some mental strategy, and that can involve everyone in the family, no matter what age. "When you can use your brain, too, you don't have to be the biggest, strongest or fastest to win," she notes. Here are some of her favorites:

TV tag. A variation on tag. Everyone runs around trying to tag each other. To avoid being tagged, you can squat down anywhere and yell out the name of your favorite TV show. A variation would be to yell out the name of your favorite book or book character.

Sardines. A variation on hide and seek. This game can be played inside or out. One person hides. Everyone else tries to find him. When you find the person who is hiding, you hide with him. The last one left looking gets to be the one to hide in the next round of the game.

Capture the flag. This is a great classic game for family or neighborhood gatherings. Mix different age groups on each team, if possible. Have at least three people on each team. Divide a large area into two equal halves (best at a park or large backyard). The players on each team work together to hide their flag (could be a rag, shirt or any object) in their team's territory. Designate a "prison" area on each side of the field. Players try to find the other team's flag and bring it back to their side of the field without being tagged. If they get tagged, they must wait in the prison area for a member of their team to come "free" them. The game ends when one team captures the opposing team's flag."Dads sometimes start off playing this game reluctantly," says Kennedy, "but they never finish reluctantly."

Fitness games to play while you are waiting

Play ball. Kennedy says she likes to keep a pink bouncy ball in her car because she can always pull it out to play catch at a rest stop on the highway or at the school playground while waiting to pick up one of her children.

Hit the stick. Another quick game to play with a ball is Hit the Stick. Put a stick in the middle of two sidewalk squares. Take turns trying to hit the stick with the ball. If you turn the stick over, you get two points.

Stone teacher. This is a good game to play on a staircase at an office building or at a school. One person is the Stone Teacher. She holds a stone in one hand and faces the group lined up on the steps below her. One person walks up to her and tries to guess which hand has the stone. If she guesses correctly, she moves up a step. When she reaches the step where the Stone Teacher is, she gets to take her place.

Walk the plank. Draw a line on the ground or floor, or put a piece of rope down. Take turns trying to walk on the line. Try walking backwards, with eyes closed or looking into binoculars that are upside down. This game is good for improving your balance.

Comments from readers

"On your next walk with your kids or family compete to see who can fill a grocery sack of garbage first. Talk with them about how good it feels to clean up our world and get exercise while doing it. Then whoever gets the most or fills theirs first gets out of helping with the dish's, setting the table or picks out the book, T.V., game, whatever it is your going to do that night. My daughters favorite is getting to help me make dinner. Go figure she doesn't realize it's being helpful. She just knows she's getting one on one attention with mom. :)"
"Have you heard about pickleball - the number one activiies? It is a simple game played on a badminton size court, two paddles and a whiffle ball. Everyone can have a degree of success almost mmediately in playing the game. We have written two books - Drilling for Success in Pickleball and Teaching for Success in Picklebal which would be beneficial in teaching this activity. Check out our blog site for more information. Thanks Sandy and Mary"
"'Why not let the kids stay up a half-hour later on family fitness night? That way it becomes something special, a privilege that they will look forward to. ' I don't think it is a good idea to let kids go to bed late to have a 'fitness' activity. Irregular sleeping schedule does more harm than good to kids. Doing special things should not affect normal sleep schedule and parents should not encourage kids to think sleep late is a privilege to earn. "
"my daughter is very smart. she catches on to things very quickly. the problem is that she does very poorly on her test. i notice she gives answers without much forethought or without really trying to understand the instructions, thus making allot of unnecessary mistakes. please help!!! i fear she is going to fail 3RD grade because of this."
"your ideas are great and simle too....some of them we have started implementing such as to walk in the playgroud ...where i teach my 4 yea old daughter cycling without supporting wheels and my 2 and half year old son run after us ...which is such a great pleasure to refreshes us all from the daily routine activities..thanks rajni"
"I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter so I started training for triathlons when she was just 2 years old. My daughter is now 4. She takes swimming lessons and she rides her 2- wheel bike (with training wheels) 3 miles while I run beside her. I wear a heart rate moniter so I can see what a great workout I'm getting. I actually burned 517 calores in the 64 min. it took for us to make the 3- mile loop to our house. We even stop and play at the playground before heading home. My daughter loves it! Just last week, my daughter told me she wants to work at the gym when she grows up. I asked her what she wants to teach and she said, 'swimming.' Kids keep us young. Everybody should find being active more fun with kids around. "
"These family fitness ideas are wonderful. I can't wait for my kids to get home from school in order to try them out. The thing I like most is that your suggestions truly are simple and it just doesn't take much to create a fun and fit approach to parenting! Thank you! "
"This is great!!! I've been looking for ideas on how to get my children more active. I'm saving a copy of this article and placing an order for Rose Kennedy's book before the end of the night!!! "
"My son, aged 12, asked for a tether ball set for Christmas and we have gotten a lot of arm and shoulder exercise with this fun, and sometimes forgotten game."
"GREAT! I copied off the games - so many good ones."
"Lisa Rosenthal, Hi! Great article. I really think everyone needs to find more fitness activities to do. I am a member of the Unity Footbag Club & I appreciate the mention in your article about Footbag. If you know of anyone in your area that would like to learn more about Footbag please contact us through or under the club section. I am in Gilbert. We have members in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Thanks much! "
"Hello, I really enjoyed your article and will incorporate it into our daily activities. Being a father of 7 year old triplets and 4 year old twins, I strive to do numerous outdoor activities in an effort to keep my children in shape and not have them just sitting around watching the TV. You gave me some really good ideas to try out and I will send you an update on how they worked with my children. Being recently separated and soon to be divorced, I have my children the majority of the time and enjoy spending time with them doing arts and crafts and anything outdoors. Thank you for the article and tips! Respectfully yours, Paul L. Carll"