“If we want our children to exercise, we need to lead by example,” says Sara Haley, a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, certified personal trainer and mother of three in Santa Monica, California. And here’s the thing: exercise is much more fun when you approach it like family playtime.
This summer, ditch excuses and take advantage of pockets of time you have right in your regular schedule. Use these sneaky family fitness ideas to get everyone up and off the couch.
In the neighborhood: Even if you don’t count your crew as active types, just about everyone can enjoy a nice walk. Make it a family affair—dog included—after work or dinner each evening (or whatever time works best for your family’s schedule). Enlist older kids to plot out new routes and give younger ones a scavenger hunt list to complete before it’s time to head home. If the neighborhood routes are limited, keep things interesting by adding circuits. For example, place jump ropes, hula hoops and balls at the end of your driveway. Each time you circle the block, everyone has one minute to dribble or toss a ball, jump rope and play tug-of-war with the dog before starting the next lap.
In the yard: Turn exercise into a competition. Backyard burpee contests or who-can-hold-a-plank competitions appeal to competitive kids. For younger ones, a backyard obstacle course is a winner.
In the house: Watching TV? Use commercial breaks for bursts of activity. For variety, have each family member choose an activity (dancing, jumping jacks, planks, push-ups, squats, yoga poses). The length of the typical commercial break provides good interval timing.
At the playground: Instead of sitting on a bench while your kids play, break a sweat. Try plyometric jumps onto a low step, suggests Haley. To do it, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and jump onto the step with both feet, hold in a squat, and then jump back down. Do a set of 8-10 (if that’s too much, step up and down, one foot at a time.) For a head-to-toe workout, add in some standing push-ups (using a tree), walking lunges and balancing on one foot. Better yet, if the playground is quiet, you can challenge your kids to match you move for move.
On the field: Don’t sit on the sidelines of sports practices. “When your kids are busy with their activities, use that time to get your workout in,” says Haley. Toss your own gear in the car so you can swim laps during the kids’ swimming lessons, or jog or speed-walk a few laps around the perimeter of the sports field. If your children have practices at a facility like a YMCA, see if there’s a workout area you could use or a class to join. Stuck in a parking lot while ballet is in session? This standing-core workout requires little space and keeps you nearby.