Kids and teens need 60 minutes of physical activity per day, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity plus some muscle-strengthening exercises each week.
So if we all need some fitness, why not log some of those minutes as a family? You get a double whammy of benefit: you’re fulfilling your exercise needs, and you’re getting some together time as well! An added bonus? You’re setting your children up for a healthy future by providing a good example for them, says Dr. Mott Blair, a family physician based in Wallace, North Carolina and a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
“As parents, we often are modeling behaviors, and our kids are internalizing that,” he says. “It’s not always what you say but what you do.”
Fitness expert and author Cris Dobrosielski suggests picking something challenging, but not too challenging. Give everyone in the family the opportunity to pick an activity or have some input, too.
“Giving the kids responsibility and having some fun with it goes a long way,” says Dobrosielski, a consultant for the American Council on Exercise.
Stumped for ideas? Try some of these activities:
Fun runs and walks. Many communities have a regular lineup of 5K and 10K races that raise money for charities. Pick one that appeals to your family and sign everyone up! Young children can participate in 1K or one-mile “fun runs” if they’re too young to complete a longer race.
Stand-up paddleboarding. If you’ve recently seen the acronym SUP and wondered “what’s sup,” now you know. Paddleboards resemble large surfboards; you stand up on the board while it’s floating in a body of water and paddle, just like the name suggests. “It’s a real workout,” notes Dr. Blair. “It requires balance and agility and some strength. You can work really hard.” Not ready for the paddleboard? Try canoeing or kayaking.
Surf or ski. If you live on a coast and have warm weather, you can sign your family up for a group surfing lesson. Or if you live in a climate with a snowy winter, go skiing as a family.
Hula hooping. It’s retro, and it’s even a little silly, but hula hooping can be more of a workout than you might realize. Grab a hoop for each family member, and work on strengthening your core. Adults might even choose weighted hoops for a little additional challenge.
A group bike ride. This family activity is tried-and-true for at least two good reasons: it’s fun, and it can be tailored to family members of any and all ages. Babies can ride in special trailers hitched to a parent’s bike, and younger children can ride tricycles. And you can tailor the length to meet your family’s endurance. Don’t forget the helmets, cautions Dr. Blair.
For older teens or young adult children, consider one of these activities:
Spartan races or runs. Obstacle races or events like the Tough Mudder (which has a minimum age limit of 18 years) and other events that get down-and-dirty may appeal if you’re looking for something edgier.
Family night at the gym. Sometimes it’s okay to not all do the same thing. Dobrosielski suggests everyone head to the gym and pick their own favorite activity. Afterward, regroup as a family and have a healthy dinner together and talk about what you did and how it went.
Two other things to remember:
Safety. Make safety a priority, regardless of what you choose. Obey the relevant safety rules or laws, and wear protective equipment. Take your family’s endurance levels into account, too, since you don’t want to be stranded somewhere with an exhausted child.
Frequency. Make a family exercise activity a regular habit, suggests Dobrosielski. Dr. Blair agrees, saying “If you start those habits early in life, they’ll carry through.”