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Family-Friendly Fitness

As elementary schools struggle with budget cutbacks, daily physical education is usually one of the first programs to go. A survey by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education reported that only 44 percent of children participate in school-based physical activity on a daily basis. And five percent receive no physical education at all.

In addition, the percentage of children between ages 6 and 11 who are overweight has almost tripled since 1980. This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These findings make it all the more important for children to get more physical activity at home or after school.

Exercising as a family not only strengthens ties between parents and children, it also makes regular physical fitness a priority for a lifetime.

Try these 10 tips to successfully combine fitness time and family time:

1. Let the kids choose the activity.

Children need (and want) to see fitness as a fun activity, not just another task. Some children prefer to be on a team, while others are more comfortable being on their own or in a small group. Don't push your children into anything they don't want to do. Try to steer them in a direction that suits their temperament, talents, and interests.

2. Encourage teamwork, not competition.

Many children feel uncomfortable in a competitive atmosphere, even within a family. Being active together can provide the perfect opportunity for a family to work as a team.

3. Aim for consistency.

Encourage your children to start a regular fitness routine, such as biking with friends after school, hiking with the family on the weekend, or being involved in group sports.

4. Give positive feedback.

There is nothing more important than giving children positive encouragement, both verbally and physically. No matter what their level of skill, help them see fitness as fun and enjoyable.

5. Be a health role model.

The best way to motivate your children is to set a healthy example yourself.

6. Use exercise as a way to learn self-discipline.

It takes discipline to make exercise part of a daily routine. You and your family have to prioritize your time and create new habits. Be sure to acknowledge it, and reward work well done.

7. Assign physically challenging chores.

Yard work, dog walking, vacuuming, putting away the groceries, taking the trash cans to the curb, and helping with easy home maintenance activities. These are just a few examples of chores that not only teach structure and time management skills, but also help someone work up a sweat.

8. Organize family vacations around physical activities.

When you take vacations, visit places that will give your family some built-in fitness possibilities. Focus on the outdoors. The options are endless!

9. Reduce access to sedentary lifestyle enablers.

Place limits on television and computer time. Family time spent around the television is not quality time together. If you don't want to get rid of the television altogether, watch with your child for a set period of time before turning it off. Create media- and electronic-free zones in the bedrooms. Monitor the television programs that they watch. Keep children under the age of two from watching TV at all, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

10. Revive the walk to school.

If you live close enough to your child's school, try walking instead of hopping in your car. Form a daily or weekly walking group consisting of your child's neighborhood friends and their parents. This might make the trip not only healthful but fun.

Parents around the world have been successful in developing Walking School Bus programs in which adults escort children as they walk to and from school. The "human bus" stops at designated pick-up spots so students can "board." Students are accompanied by an adult "driver" as well as a "conductor" at the rear of the "bus." Millions participate in the annual International Walk to School week every October.

More Family-Friendly Fitness Ideas

Beach volleyball
Cross-country skiing
Horseback riding
Martial arts
Miniature golf
Mountain biking
Rock climbing
Street hockey 


1. Survey administered by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Findings released at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Conference. Orlando, Florida.
2. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Improving child and adolescent health through physical activity and nutrition: The PAN Program. 
3. Walk a child to school. National Center for Bicycling and Walking.

4. Doan M. The Sierra Club family outdoors guide: Hiking, backpacking, camping, bicycling water sports, and winter activities with children. Sierra Club Press.

5. Bell TE and Bell RK. Bicycling with children: A complete how-to guide. Mountaineers Books.

6. Spires T. A guide to happy family camping: A little help to get started camping. Good Books.

7. Cooper KH. Fit kids: The complete shape-up program from birth through high school, Broadman & Holman.

8. Data and statistics. Obesity rates among all children in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Written by:: Lynne Hasselmann
Reviewed:: 9/24/2012

This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis of specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt professional medical attention if you have a particular concern about your health or specific symptoms. Wellsource, Inc. is not liable for any health consequences resulting from your use of this site.