Cedric X. Bryant by Cedric X. Bryant

This article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on September 14, 2020.



How to Make Physical Activity a Family Affair

With organized sports and PE classes still on hold in many places, finding ways to stay active is vital for health. It's also a great way to spend family time.

By Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Contributor

STAYING ACTIVE AS A family can be challenging, but it’s more important now than ever. With organized sports, PE classes and even impromptu gatherings in the park still on hold in many places, finding ways to stay active and keep your kids active is vital.

Physical activity is not only a great way to spend your family time, but it also yields benefits that couldn’t be more timely, including decreased stress, improved sleep, and improved physical and mental health.

Consider the following tips to make physical activity a family affair:

  • Make it part of your routine.
  • Try new things.
  • Create an exercise toy box.
  • Make it fun.

Make It Part of Your Routine
It’s important to demonstrate to your kids that physical activity is important, and the best way to do that is to make it a natural and consistent part of your routine. An after-dinner walk – including the dog can reinforce the routine and make it more fun – or a trip to the park to play soccer on the weekends are healthy additions to your family’s lifestyle. If your kids are attending virtual school and you're working from home, schedule family recess time to get up, go outside and get moving.

Try New Things
The key to sticking with a physical-activity regimen over the long haul is to find something you and your family enjoy. Take those after-dinner walks to a local hiking trail or park and turn them into nature discovery hikes. Train for a local charity event, like a 5K. The options are limitless, and many activities – including kayaking, hiking, swimming and biking – can all be done while maintaining a safe social distance from people outside your household.

Create an Exercise Toy Box
Choosing items to include in an exercise toy box can be a fun and creative experience for kids of all ages. Here are some suggestions:

  • Sidewalk chalk can be used for outdoor workouts to draw agility ladders, four square or hopscotch. Or create a “balance beam” or mark a path through an elaborate obstacle course. Painter’s tape can be used to mark hardwood floors in the same way.
  • Household items can be used as resistance equipment. Be careful to ensure the weight is appropriate for the person (adult or child) who is going to use it. Suggestions include canned veggies, plastic milk cartons and laundry detergent containers.
  • Paper or plastic cups can be used in lieu of cones to create obstacle courses or relay races.
  • Pillows can serve as unstable surfaces to incorporate balance exercises.
  • Chairs, tables, boxes, blankets and towels can be used to create tunnels and things to climb over and under as part of indoor obstacles courses.

Make It Fun
This is arguably the most important tip of all. Physical activity does not have to be structured or regimented to be beneficial. You can simply play, garden, go swimming, have a scavenger hunt or have a dance party.

Letting your kids lead the way can help ensure that they're engaged and enjoying themselves and will help reinforce the idea that physical activity can be a fun part of their everyday lives.

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