From Monkey Bars to Marathons: Getting (and Staying!) Healthy with your Kids
Let’s face it, we all have a million excuses why we can’t work out. Too busy. Too tired. Too lazy. But, if you have a family, there is one major benefit to stop all the excuses and start making healthy lifestyle choices: being a role model for your children. Helping kids make the right fitness choices when they are young means that they will have healthy habits into their adult years, and that is worth getting off the couch.
There are lots of different activities you can do with your kids – from running to yoga. Try out new things as a family and you will be surprised at how willing your kids are to try different activities (and have fun doing it!)
How much should children exercise?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids should be getting about 60 minutes (or more) of physical activity every day. The CDC says that most of the physical activity your kids get will be of the aerobic variety (think running around outside, biking, swimming, etc.) but you should also incorporate muscle strengthening and bone strengthening activities at least three days a week – things like pushups, jumping rope are a perfect fit.
The best thing you can do for your kids as far as fitness is concerned is to make it a habit yourself in order to set a good example. Instead of creating separate times for bonding and exercise (you are a busy parent, after all) incorporate fitness as a part of your everyday routine so you can bond over some fun playtime, instead of in front of the TV. Below are a few ideas of fitness activities that you and your kids can do together – make sure these are age-appropriate and fun for the whole family so your kids will stay motivated to make fitness a part of their daily routine.
Imagine your kids playing on the playground. Now, look closer and think about all the ways your kids are working and challenging their muscles without even realizing it. Monkey bars? That’s a tough arm workout. Trying to climb up the slide? Great leg workout! While your kid gets a lot of benefit from just having fun and being a little monkey on the playground, you should be getting some of those muscle-building benefits as well! Don’t push kids too hard to do any specific workout moves – they will burn plenty of calories on their own. And, in fact, they might just tucker you out with all their energy on the playground. Parents can try these exercises to make the most of their trip to the neighborhood playground:
Standing Push ups. Depending on how hard you want your push ups to be, find a bar that is anywhere from 6 inches to 4 feet off the ground (the closer to the ground, the harder the push ups will be) – make sure to engage your core while doing these push ups. And, challenge yourself to get better every week by seeking out bars closer to the ground and gaining strength with each playground trip.
Assisted Pull Ups. Find a bar that’s about 3-4 feet high and use an underhand grip to lower yourself underneath the bars and do some pull ups. Keep your knees bent; don’t lock your knees or straighten your legs out completely. Keep your head straight and strong so you don’t hurt your neck.
Swing Lunges. Lunges in general are a great leg and butt exercise and using a swing puts a fun twist on this exercise. Seek out a swing set and stand with your backside facing the swings. Bend one leg and put it behind you, resting it on the swing. Now, do your stationary lunges with your one leg that is still on the ground. You will need to use your core to stabilize your body and you will really feel it in your engaged leg. Remember to switch legs to get an equal workout on each!
Swing Crisscross. Stay at the swing set for this ab exercise. Sitting in the swing, stick your legs out in front of you and crisscross your ankles – one on top of the other – alternating which ankle is on top. Be sure to hold your ab muscles (but not your breathe!) to keep your body stable and your core working to its maximum potential.
Bench Dip. Find a bench and scoot your butt to the edge. Place your palms down on the bench beside you and walk you legs out a little so you can dip and get a great tricep workout. Keeping your legs bent and closer to your body makes this exercise easier, but for a challenge, move your legs further away before you start to dip.
Step Ups. Find some steps that are at a height you are comfortable with and just start stepping up. This will give you buns of steel if you concentrate on really using your glutes to move you up and down the step. You can alternate legs or do one set on one leg before switching to the other.
More Playground Workout Tips
Playing sports with your kids is another great way to get your daily exercise in for both you and your kids. You don’t have to be playing in an actual game in order to get the fitness benefits of playing sports. My little brother loves basketball and will spend hours outside perfecting his shooting and running drills. My little sister does the same with soccer, running around the yard chasing the black and white streak of a ball.
Practicing drills with your kids, playing a fun game like HORSE (try and make it as non-competitive as possible) or even gathering a group together to play a version of the sport makes fitness fun and that means that your kids will be more likely to stick with it. I have even made up elaborate games with my cousins with crazy rules, even combining different sports equipment, and make play time fun for the whole family and beneficial for everyone’s fitness levels.
Also, let your kids teach you things they have learned about their sports – maybe how to dribble better for soccer – and you can bond over shared experiences.
If your kid isn’t much of a team sports player, maybe you can try out these sports with them that are a little more “individual” so they don’t have to feel pressure to perform well because they don’t want to let their team down (even if that team is only kids from around the neighborhood…) Just because these aren’t team sports doesn’t mean you can’t participate with your kids as well:
More Information on Running Programs for Kids
- Kids' Running Guide
Here's how to teach your children (whatever their age) to get started, stay healthy, and enjoy running for life.
Running is pretty much the easiest fitness activity anyone can do, including your kids. You don’t need much equipment, except for a sturdy pair of running shoes. And you don’t need to go to a gym – just head outside to a track or just around your neighborhood and start running.
Depending on your kid’s current fitness level and age, determine what mileage goals you want to have and work up to those every week. Start small and don’t push your children too hard because then it will defeat the purpose of having fun and exercising at the same time.
Let your children choose whether they want to walk or run and how far they are comfortable going. Take frequent rests in the beginning and really teach them about the basic of running so they don’t get hurt.
I would recommend doing research on other kid’s running programs, especially some of the successful ones that schools around the country have done, to check out appropriate mileage and ideas of how to incentivize kids to keep running!
When you think of all the great benefits of yoga, relieving stress, becoming more aware of your body, being more coordinated and flexible, these are all great things for your children as well. Yoga moves that are simple and easy to do are the best for kids – they are already pretty flexible naturally so you can have them concentrate on staying calm and breathing in order to be more comfortable with their body and how it moves.
Yoga is a great way to get fit and bond with your kids – because of the slow pace of the practice, you will have plenty of time to answer any questions or help your child with his or her posing (without getting too technical, of course!)
Do some research on the Internet or find a kid’s yoga book at your local library to check out poses that are appropriate for children to master – simple ones like “cat cow” or “downward dog” are simple enough that children can do it, but challenging enough that you as a parent will get the mental and fitness benefits as well.
A Kids Yoga Routine
Sometimes, exercise can be boring. And for kids who aren’t used to exercise, it can be really physically demanding, which makes working out seem like a chore instead of something fun. That’s where I think incorporating video games can be a helpful way to increase your kid’s fitness level. I am not talking about Mario Kart or Madden when I say video games – I am talking about Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Sports or some other game that gets your family active. These activities won’t burn as much as running or playing a soccer game, but they will definitely be more beneficial than sitting in front of the TV watching reruns.
The manufacturers of these games know how to keep kids engaged, and that is the key to getting them to be active every day. Activities like this are especially helpful when your kids are stuck inside because of the rain or snow – getting them moving, even if it is indoors, helps contribute to their 60 minutes of daily exercise. And, I’m sure they enjoy betting their mom and dad at something, too!
Things to Remember
Incorporating fitness into your daily life is a great choice for you, and an even better choice for your kids since they can create habits now that will last them for the rest of their lives. Here are a few things to remember:
1. Keep your kids hydrated. Just like adults, kids sweat when they are active so make sure that your kids are getting plenty of fluid – water is best – before, during and after they are physically active.
2. Keep it fun. Kids will give up pretty easily if they think that the activities are too hard or too boring. Make sure they are having fun along the way and then they will be begging you to work out with them all the time!
3. Be patient. Introducing new things into your child’s routine can take some time so don’t get too frustrated if they aren’t getting the hang out something quickly enough. Double check that the exercise or activity is age-appropriate and give them some time to become adjusted.
4. Lead by example. Be sure to exercise and stay fit with your kid since they look up to you and want to be just like you! Better to show them a healthy lifestyle than to have them copy you when you are vegging out in front of the TV.
5. Encourage them. Make sure to keep them motivated by giving them good, positive feedback when they do well. You can even try making a fun chart with colorful markers to mark goals or check off the days you exercise so you can see your family’s progress and reward them with something fun once they reach and exceed their goals.
Get Moving with your Kids!
More Resources for Keeping your Kids Fit!
- KidsHealth.org : Parents Home Page
KidsHealths Parents section has doctor-approved, accurate, up-to-date, and jargon-free health information about children from before birth through adolescence.
- Active Kids Nutrition, Exercise, Games, Sports & Fun - Kaboose - Kaboose.com
Everything you need to know about keeping your kids healthy, including information about different types of exercise that will keep them fit for life!
- The Little Gym | Family Fun Activities | Child Gymnastics
Check and see if you have a Little Gym in your area! They are consistently rated as one of the best places to get your kids fit and active.
- Fitness for Kids
A statement from the Mayo Clinic about how to get your kid off the couch and exercising more.