Mix up the family routine to make time for fitness

It's easy for the weekdays to slip away while you're shuffling the kids from school, to music lessons, to home and then nudging them to get their homework done in the evening. The result is a family that's busy, but maybe not fit nor having much fun together.

With the national emphasis on raising healthier and more active children, it's important for parents to promote fitness as an enjoyable event, rather than part of the daily grind. One way to do that is to occasionally blow the whistle on the usual routine, and do something fun as a family.


"Active family outings not only provide an opportunity for activity, but they are frequently some of the best bonding opportunities," suggests Randy Clark of the University of Wisconsin Hospital Sports Medicine Center.

Here are a few ways to shake things up a bit.


Hanging out in the yard

With their scheduled lifestyle, just playing outside can be a welcome break for most children who barely notice their backyard in their rush out the door. When parents join in, it becomes that much more memorable.

"Just being outside, getting out to play, is great for kids. After dinner, instead of sitting in front of the TV, get out and walk the dog, or ride a bike or scooter," says Michael Leidig, Clinical Director for the Center for Youth Wellness and Assistant Professor, Tufts University School of Medicine.

"Kids will remember early memories of fitness that was fun, such as playing catch after supper," says Leidig.

Sign up for an event

Setting your sights on completing an event, such as a road race or benefit walk, can be a perfect family project. Practice walks or runs can help everyone prepare for the actual event. On the big day, the kids can tackle the shorter "fun run" while the parents take on a longer distance, or, the whole family can lace up to walk a distance together. Everyone will be left with fond memories and a sense of accomplishment.

Obstacle courses

Obstacle courses have become a national pastime. While the popular races are often restricted to those over 18, with a little creativity you can create stations from materials you have on hand: yoga balls, hula hoops, fitness steps, or jump ropes. Adjust the difficulty according to the child's age. For older children (and parents), incorporate a mental twist to up the challenge.


If you really want to impress your youngster, use a sprinkler to create a station that involves mud.

Family yoga

Yoga can offer something to every member of the family. Tweens and teens, often overwhelmed by mounting academic and social pressures, can cultivate skills to learn to unwind. Young children enjoy the unusual positions and ninja-like poses, while parents may enjoy releasing their aching back.

"Yoga is a great way to gain strength, flexibility, and balance," adds Leidig. "It's also great because you can do it indoors, during a blizzard."

If you can't fit an organized class into everyone's schedule, buy a DVD and a set of yoga mats, and learn together.

Dog walking


Walking is a terrific low-impact form of exercise, but it might not spark the interest of today's fast-paced youth. But bring a dog along, and it's a whole new adventure. Don't have your own dog? Your local animal shelter has more than enough dogs to walk. Most volunteers under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult, making it a perfect family outing.

Ice skating

A few laps around an ice rink will remind you of the cardiovascular benefits of this often overlooked workout. Don't confine skating to winter; year-round rinks are cool and crowd-free in summer. Depending on your climate, head for an approved frozen pond in winter, or consider setting up a backyard rink. Your house will be the place to gather on a wintery evening.

Take a bike ride

Many unused railroads have been paved and repurposed into bike paths, creating traffic-free roadways for family adventures. While it may seem like an ordinary event, biking becomes more novel when the whole family heads out.

"Make it playful with a fun destination, and you're being active without even realizing it!" adds Clark.


Try setting a goal of trying one new thing together once a month, suggests Steve Ettinger, New York-based author, speaker, and kids fitness expert. Although it can be difficult to get everyone to agree on a destination, a little creativity can help.

"Rotate who gets to choose the activity," he suggests. "If a family already has a fitness routine, it means they like being active, which is the best and most important first step."

— By Debbie Swanson, Tribune Brand Publishing