Family Fun & Fitness

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With these expert tips, fitting in enough physical activity is all fun and games

School, work, responsibilities at home. You're so busy, busy, busy that it's tempting to simply collapse in front of the TV when you have a spare moment. But there are big benefits for body and soul in getting physically active with your family. There's weight and a healthy heart, of course, and family workouts also offer the opportunity to cut stress, bond more closely and experience the joy of being playful together.

Numerous studies show that play is key for healthy growth. Free play—beyond team sports and phys-ed classes—"contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Play and physical activity are fundamental to life and essential to human function," says Steve Sanders, Ed.D., director of the University of South Florida's School of Physical Education and Exercise Science in Tampa. "And playtime with kids is what brings families together."

You don't need a fancy gym or complicated equipment—tossing a ball or running races in the backyard is ideal. "What's most important is that parents make home a place where children have access to play equipment such as balls, racquets, bats, and riding toys, and open space where they can run, jump, skip and gallop," says Sanders. So try some of our guaranteed-to-bring-on-the-giggles ideas!

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  • Get outdoor chores done with fun! Make washing the car, clearing the yard of acorns or raking leaves a group effort. Enjoy the process; challenge the kids to gather the biggest leaf pile they can or fill a basket with fallen acorns. You'll get the jobs finished, slip in some exercise and—most important—do it together. "One of the biggest rewards for children is spending more time with their parents," says Lynn James, R.D., L.D.N., of the Family Fitness Program for the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Sunbury, PA.
  • Make house cleanup a game. If the weather's too chilly or rainy for outdoor chores, try this activity from the American Heart Association: Place sticky notes on everything that needs tidying (a cluttered kitchen table, perhaps the floor of the playroom). Then set the kids loose to clean; they get to collect the sticky note after they've finished that item or area. Whoever collects the most sticky notes in 20 minutes wins the challenge.
  • Play fetch with Fido (or dog-sit a pal's pooch). When the dog needs to go for a walk, make it a family affair. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found getting a dog increases recreational walking by 31 minutes per week. And compared to people who don't have dogs or don't walk them, dog walkers are less likely to be obese, according to a study in Preventive Medicine.
  • Make your house a playroom. Haul out Twister, or build an obstacle course with couch cushions and stuffed toys. Time family members as they run the course. Blow up a few large punch-ball balloons (less than $1 each) then whack 'em around the room together.
  • Go farming! Fall is an ideal time to visit a pick-your-own-produce farm, where you can walk the fields, filling baskets with pumpkins, squash and dried corn. "There's an opportunity for parents and kids to have some quality time together out in nature," says Shape Up America's Barbara Moore. "While your hands are busy and you're focused on picking, you can chat in a relaxed way and find out what's happening in your kids' lives." Get a nationwide list of farms to visit at
  • Do a family challenge! Give each family member a pedometer and encourage them to log as many steps per day as they can. (Kids 6 and up: boys should work up to 15,000 steps a day and girls to 12,000. Adults should aim for 10,000, about five miles.) Kids will love watching the steps mount up. When you log a certain number of miles, celebrate with a favorite family activity.
  • Find family-friendly gyms. Facilities such as YMCAs often offer mixed-age exercise classes such as swimming and dance. If you can't find what you're looking for, ask a local health-club manager about starting a parent-child program.

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  • Enjoy fitness walks. With a GPS or a compass, put together a course to a fun destination, such as a friend's house across town. On your way, stop every few minutes for an activity burst (such as a minute's worth of jumping jacks).
  • Hunt for craft items. Go for a brisk walk through the park or nearby woods and collect items that are craft-worthy, such as fallen leaves, small sticks and seedpods. Back at home, put together fall collages.
  • Adopt a park. Pledge as a family to help keep it clean. Visit every couple of weeks and toss away trash.
  • Do good! Get involved in a walkathon, bikeathon or another active fund-raiser as a family.
  • Go to school! Ask the principal about having evening or weekend activities such as family basketball games or sack races in the gym.

Physical activity: What's enough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that kids aged 6 to 17 get at least an hour of mostly aerobic exercise daily, either moderate-intensity, such as brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running. Children also need muscle-strengthening activities, say, push-ups, and bone-strengthening exercises, such as jumping rope, at least 3 days a week.

Adults aged 18 to 64 need about 25 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a day or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobics per week. The CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening activities that work the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms on two or more days a week.

5 Get-Fit Strategies

  1. Think small. Even short periods of movement, such as a walk with your child to school, can have benefits. "If you can grab 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at the end of the day, it's an important step in the right direction," says Barbara Moore, president and CEO of Shape Up America.
  2. Make a family-fun jar. Add slips of paper suggesting activities such as "Have a dance-off in the living room and make a video of it."
  3. Create a no-criticism zone. Focus on the fun, not athletic performance.
  4. Build in rewards. Turn a hike into a hunt for nature's treasures; bike to the library to check out books.
  5. Let kids choose. A child who loves bowling can pick a trip to the bowling alley for your next family activity, your animal lover, a visit to the zoo.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 19 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015