Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Family Fitness
20 Fun Ways to Exercise with Your Kids

by Kimberly Harms

April 01, 2011

There’s no doubt it’s hard to juggle work, family and fitness. Let’s face it, a work out doesn’t even sound fun – it has the word ‘work’ in it. But if you combine family time with exercise and make a game out of it, it doesn’t seem so bad.

As you read on you will find 20 fun ways for you and your children to incorporate exercise into your daily lives.

1. Turn a hike into a treasure hunt. Instead of walking from point A to point B, try looking for certain kinds of colors, flowers, plants and animals. The one who spots the item first gets to choose the exercise you do together (jump, run, skip) before moving on to the next treasure item. This keeps everyone from being bored and it doesn’t feel like it’s work. Also, the whole family is able to participate. Younger children can ride a tricycle or you can pull them in a wagon. Physicians recommend starting with short walks that everyone in the family can complete and then adding more distance gradually.

2. Take part in a charity run/walk in your community and warm up for the event by taking the whole family on a walk through your neighborhood to collect pledges.

3. Create a competition by purchasing pedometers for everyone in the family and see who logs the most steps each day.

4. Get the tech savvy kids involved through geocaching (a high tech treasure hunt using a GPS).

5. Copy the television show and create your own “Survivor” game at home and videotape it. Kids love to be the center of attention and you’ll enjoy a few laughs watching it later.

6. Encourage your kids to make up their own games. It will help stretch their imaginations as well as their muscles. For example, Freeze Dancing, which is similar to musical chairs. Play music and start dancing and explain to your child that when you stop the music, everyone freezes and then you start dancing when the music plays again.

7. Invite the neighbor kids over and have them complete an obstacle course in your yard.

8. Create a mini Olympic competition in the backyard with your children and their friends.

9. Play soldier and do the mud crawl (lie down on the ground with upper-body weight resting on your forearms then move forward alternating between right and left elbows). First one to the end of the yard wins.

10. Go to the neighborhood playground and ask your youngsters to make up a game of chutes and ladders (going from slides to monkey bars and back).

11. Check with your local park system to see what they offer. Indianapolis is currently celebrating the 100 Years of Indy Parks, and Indy Parks is challenging visitors to explore 100 parks and to bike, run, walk, or swim 100 miles. Register online at to download the worksheet and fill it out throughout the year. It’s one way to discover new parks and rediscover old ones while sneaking in healthy exercise.

12. The YMCA is a great resource for programs geared toward parents exercising with kids as they offer many family classes.

13. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers tips on fit minds and healthy bodies at

14. It can be challenging to get little tots active who might not understand exercise. So, use your imagination to create movements that stretch their muscles and get the metabolism going. Tell them to fly like an eagle, run like a deer, stretch like a cat, or jump like a frog.

15. Choose a favorite action story and ask the kids to copy the actions of the characters as you read the story.

16. Visit one of those indoor facilities with "blow-up" or inflatable structures. You might be surprised at how much energy those little rascals burn running from castles to slides.

17. Swimming is a great way to exercise without jarring little bones. The water supports your body and is also a good overall conditioner to strengthen your arms, legs, heart and lungs. My son and I like to sit on those long noodles and move our legs like we are running and race each other through the deep end.

18. One of the biggest challenges can be figuring out how to keep the family active when it’s cold or rainy outside. The added challenge of being trapped inside is the proximity of the cupboard and refrigerator. Exer-gaming is the new buzz word to get those couch potatoes off their bottoms and moving while they’re playing video games. You can also rent a DVD to watch that allows you to exercise at the same time. My son and I dance with Michael Jackson. Some other popular DVD’s include “Care Bears: Fitness Fun” and “Sesame Street: Happy Healthy Monsters”.

19. Martial arts is a wonderful physical activity for children to stay consistently active. Crouching Tigers is one of many year-round programs that keeps children moving and conquering new skills along with progressing in belt ranks.

20. Jump roping is a great exercise. Anna Marshall, a physical therapist with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, offers some fun ideas for jumping rope. She suggests visiting for more information on family jumping tips and jump rope rhymes and songs.

“There are all kinds of jump rope skills that kids can learn and practice together with you,” she said. “You might want to involve grandparents too!”

To protect your kids and keep them healthy, children should have at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day, said Quentin Tanko, M.D. Tanko is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in pediatric sports and pediatric trauma at Riverview Hospital in Noblesville, Ind. He recommends children try different exercises and sports to avoid overuse injuries.

“The developing skeleton is not meant to throw a baseball or spike a volleyball year round,” he said. “I have seen an increase in repetitive injuries in my practice because children lack the appropriate muscle tone for repetitive activities and their growth plates and joints suffer accordingly.”

Tanko said a different sport every three months allows the developing skeleton to recover. An added bonus to family exercise, said Tanko, is that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from depression, cancer, and obesity-related medical problems such as diabetes.

Lori Walton is a registered nurse, who runs a children’s weight management program at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind. Walton and registered dietitian Gretchen Fisher are the authors of the recently released cookbook for families, “Menu Makeovers”.

Walton suggests using the spirit of play to help kids be more active, “Parents can help children limit sedentary activity while providing an environment where physical activity is fun,” she said. “Becoming more active will be challenging for many families. Therefore it is important to set realistic goals, which will help progress to an active lifestyle. For those of us who feel they can’t find time to be active, I challenge you to decrease your daily family screen time by 1 hour and see what you can squeeze in.”

Research shows that parents who are physically active and who eat smart increase the chances that their kids will be active & healthier too. Marshall says families create their own culture and teach children early on what is important.

“Parents and other care providers who are regularly active are teaching the children they love that physical activity is something that you do as a commitment to lifelong good health,” she said. You might liken it to brushing your teeth or washing your face. But these family related physical activities can also create wonderful memories that children remember throughout their lives as they develop habits that will help them live longer, healthier lives. And if you help put the fun in it, it won’t seem as much like work.