Most of us acknowledge the benefits of exercise, but for busy parents, it can seem near impossible to do when you’re keeping up with all your other responsibilities. Parenting is a full-time job, between all the diaper changes, helping with homework, feedings and meals and keeping up with household chores. Getting a workout in, let alone hiding from your kids in the bathroom for a few minutes of Zen, may seem like an impossible dream (How do they always seem to know how to find you?!).
But don’t let your responsibilities as a parent derail your fitness goals. Your children want you around for a long time, and one way to achieve that is through regular exercise. It’s not easy to find a hole in your daily schedule, especially if you’ve got a paying job as well, so why not seek out time together? Doing so can help you continue to hit your fitness goals, get some bonding time in and instill positive fitness habits into your kids’ lives.
The benefits of physical activity in children
Did you know that less than one-quarter (24%) of children (ages 6 to 17) get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day? Just as working out keeps adults physically and mentally strong as we age, it’s also vital to the health and well-being of children.
“Physical activity has an innumerable amount of benefits to children, including helping kids build and maintain healthy bones and muscles and maintaining a healthy body mass index,” said Abigail Hamilton, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner – University Medicine Orthopedics Clinic in Tucson, AZ. “Especially for the adolescent group, ages 5 to preteens, it can help them build coordination and muscle memory. It can boost self-esteem, improve school performance and reduce mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.”
[For more information on the benefits of physical activity, check out: physical activity facts and physical activity recommendations by age group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.]
5 ways to get your kids exercising
Getting even a few minutes of “me time” can seem near impossible. However, with a few simple tips, you can get your kids moving and hit your fitness goals both at the same time. Here are 5 ways to get your bodies moving:
1. Make it a game. “The number one way to engage your kids in your workouts is by making it fun and engaging,” Dr. Hamilton said. Create an obstacle course, play follow the leader or play a simple game of tag to break up a workout. Get each family member an activity tracker or pedometer and compete against each other for the most steps in a week. Offer a prize to the winner.
2. Explore different physical activities. Expose your kids to lots of different activities together, like biking, swimming, soccer, tennis and basketball. “Data supports introducing young children to a variety of different sports instead of specializing too young,” Dr. Hamilton said. “Think of it as family exploration.” Ask your children what sports or actvities interest them. Sign up for a class to allow them to explore that interest. Your child might find a sport or activity they enjoy. The more they enjoy it, the more likely they’ll continue with it.
Incorporating family traditions such as Sunday bike rides to a favorite breakfast spot or an evening walk after dinner can not only help family members get more physical activity together, but also create opportunities to talk more openly and address concerns such as peer pressure or issues at school. Encourage your kids to walk or bike to school by accompanying them to the bus stop or school.
3. Have a dance party. Whether dancing with baby in your arms or carrier or shaking your groove thing with your toddler and older children, crank up the tunes and start moving. You can let your kids pick the music or use your own. Or look up a kid-friendly dance party on YouTube that has age-appropriate dance moves to follow.
4. Just breathe and stretch. Teach your child some simple stretches or yoga poses do alongside one another. There are even some great instructional meditations, yoga and stretching videos online geared toward children—but that you can benefit from too.
5. Seek seasonal activities. Take advantage of being outdoors. In the summer, swimming can keep kids active and busy for hours. Tread water while you watch them or swim laps while they splash around. In the fall, get out in nature with some short hikes. In the winter, go sledding, teach them to ski or have an old-fashioned snowball fight.
[Check out these important swimming safety tips and winter safety tips for infants and children.]
Plan for your next family vacation together in an active location where you can create an itinerary that involves one activity per day where everyone can participate. Remember to bring water and have the proper equipment, such as closed-toe shoes for hiking or helmets for biking. Discuss ways to include these newly discovered family activities into your agenda at home.
Bonus! Don’t forget about baby!
Just because they may not be walking yet, doesn’t mean your baby can’t get involved in your exercises too. Here are some additional tips just for you and your baby:
- Go for a walk or jog with them in the stroller.
- Do lunges, squats and bench presses using your baby as weights. For lunges and squats, hold your baby in your arms, hands or in a wrap or carrier.
- Do peek-a-boo pushups while they do tummy time. “Babies enjoy watching motion at this age,” Dr. Hamilton said.
Safety tips to remember
You want to make working out fun and engaging and hopefully create a lifetime of healthy habits for your children, “but remember to do it safely,” Dr. Hamilton advised. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Focus on proper form. Proper form reduces the likelihood of injury. Get your child off on the right foot (or feet) by ensuring they are maintaining proper form.
Find a safe stable environment with good surface traction to work out. Carpet or rubber flooring are the best options. They can prevent slips and falls while absorbing impact. If working out outside, aim for a grassy area or bring along a workout mat versus working out on the hard pavement.
Incorporate strength training and plyometrics, not weight training. Strength training is said to help improve sports performance and increase endurance but lifting too much too early can be bad for their growing bodies.
“By about age 7, children’s brains have the neuromuscular control to have proper form and technique while lifting weights, but the goal shouldn’t be bulking up and bodybuilding at this age,” Dr. Hamilton said. “Children’s skeletal systems, those ages 5 to 17, aren’t ready for that. Weightlifting can put too much force on their growth plates.”
If your child wants to strength train, opt for little weights, resistance bands or exercises that utilize their own body weight. There’s plenty of time for them to bulk up when they are in their late teens or early 20s.
Exercise helps us maintain a healthy weight and keeps our hearts running strong. However, in our busy lives, sometimes exercise can be perceived as "work" and one more thing to fit into your busy schedule. However, remind your spouse or partner that you need to be exercise role models for your children. If you demonstrate a love for activity, your children are likely to follow.
For other health- and fitness-related articles, check out:
- Preventing Kids’ Overuse Sports Injuries
- Are You Ready to Jump Back into Sports?
- 5 Fixes to Common Weightlifting Mistakes
- Children’s Sports Physicals: A Summer Playbook
Updated: Content in this article was updated on December 7, 2022