If we didn't know it before, we know it now - being physically active and focusing on fitness is an important life priority beginning in early childhood to build healthy habits. Not only does regular exercise and physical activity increase physical and cardiovascular health, it can improve sleep, reduce stress, increase attention and learning, and minimize illness. Because the habits and preferences children develop early in life will shape their choices and behaviors for years to come, it is critical to establish good physical activity habits now.
But knowing the importance of exercise & healthy habits and doing something about it are two different things. The average family has more commitments than time to meet them, from homework to basketball practice to piano lessons. It often seems impossible to fit one more thing into the schedule, no matter how good it is for you.
One way to fit fitness into the schedule is to turn it into a family activity. Not only is daily physical activity a healthy goal for everyone in the family, it provides us with an opportunity to spend time together and offers an excellent model for young children as they see the adults in their family having fun with fitness right alongside them.
Family Fitness Ideas
Here are a few ideas for family physical activities that everyone can participate in:
- Take a Walk. A daily (or a few times a week) walk is a perfect way to reflect on the day and learn about what's going on in each other's lives. Finding ways to go on fun nature walks or allotting twenty minutes after dinner for a walk around the neighborhood will not only help you and your family members re-energize a bit before tackling homework, but it will improve heart health and digestion.
- Healthy Habits & Hobbies. Many of us have a list of things we plan to do when our children get older. But why wait? Dreaming of picking up your tennis racquet again someday; why not make it into a family fitness activity and take lessons together? Want to learn karate or taekwondo; what about a family class? Excited about a salsa dancing or a rumba class? Teach the kids a few moves and dance around the living room. With a few modifications, many adult fitness activities can become fun for the whole family.
- Keep Physical Activities Simple. Getting more physical activity doesn't always have to be a planned event. Ask everyone in the family to be on the lookout for simple ways to be more active. Try parking your car further from the door at the shopping mall, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to the corner store instead of driving. Get creative and involve everyone.
- Outdoor Fitness Fun. Depending on the season, there are many fun outdoor family activities to enjoy together. From riding bikes to kite flying and from gardening to building snowmen (or women), getting outside can be invigorating for everyone and can provide a few moments or all day opportunities for physical activity to boost family fitness.
- Family Challenges & Competitions. Sometimes a little family competition can be motivating. Ask everyone to set a physical activity goal: maybe learning to skip, jumping rope ten times without missing, or seeing who can keep a hula hoop going longest. Keep track of progress on a poster board in a central location. Or, use the Family Activity Log on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's We Can! website.
- Fit for a Cause. It seems like there is a walk-a-thon or 5K opportunity every weekend. Participate in a good cause and turn it into a family fitness activity. Involve the whole family in choosing a cause, training for the event, and then participating. The rewards will be many as your whole family contributes to a cause you are committed to, as well as participates in an event with others who are enjoying a physical activity.
- Minimize Screen Time. Take a look at how often your child is in front of a screen. From video games to computers and television, it adds up. While not all screen activities are bad, they are, for the most part, sedentary. Set boundaries between kids and screens by helping children maintain healthy technology usage. Think about ways to minimize screen time like eliminating screens from your child's bedroom, challenging children to be active during commercials (how many jumping jacks can you do during a commercial break?), and limiting TV on weekend days when children have many alternate active options.
Regardless of what you do, it's important to make family fitness enjoyable. Having fun together as a family is as important as the physical activity itself.
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