When it comes to family fitness, we all know the headlines – obesity (child and adult) is on the up and activity levels are dropping lower and lower. In fact, only about 1 in 20 people in the UK get the amount of exercise they should, around 150 minutes of activity a week for adults and 60 minutes a day for children aged between five and sixteen.
We also know the benefits of more exercise. As well as helping to keep weight in check, increasing activity levels also improves heart health, strengthens bones and muscles, boosts mood, reduces stress, minimises risk of illness and helps improve sleep patterns.
The thing that leaves many parents stumped is what do about it. With so many pressures on time and kids captivated by all things digital, it can be tough to know where to start. My advice for anyone in this situation is simple – focus on fun family time and you won’t go far wrong.
1) Walk and talk
It’s free, it’s in the fresh air, requires no special equipment and it’s also one of the best forms of exercise out there. What’s not to love about walking? It also provides a great opportunity to catch up as a family while giving the cardiovascular system a good work out. Try putting local landmarks (whether it’s a village post box, a well-known building or a point of interest) in a hat and getting the kids to plan a route based on the locations they pick out.
2) Pulse boosting play
Remember, anything that gets the pulse rate up and body moving is exercise which makes active play a great way to boost physical fitness. Hopscotch, tig (or ‘tag’ or ‘it’ depending on where you are from), stuck in the mud, double dutch and even something as simple as throwing a Frisbee, are all playtime favourites that can help get the heart rate up and muscles working. And parents…don’t be afraid to join in.
3) Changing attitudes to chores
Admittedly, doing the household chores doesn’t sound like the most promising way to boost family fitness. But what if dusting became dancing. With a feather duster as a microphone, music playing and mum/dad providing supporting vocals and dance moves, a household chore can soon become a fun physical activity. Speed sweeping and car cleaning challenges (prizes for quickest times) are some other options.
4) Super swimming
Water is roughly 800 times denser than air. It’s also super supportive – while swimming, up to 90% of the body’s weight is suspended meaning less pressure and stress on joints. Why is this important? Because it means that in the pool you can burn more calories and get a full body workout without even realising it. It’s also been shown to relieve stress, tension and depression. Family swim sessions at are usually in-expensive, great fun and are a great way to introduce kids to regular exercise.
5) Taste something new
Feeling fit isn’t just about how we use our bodies, it is also about what we put in them. A big lesson I’ve learned from running health and fitness programmes (often aimed at families trying to lose weight together) is that fear of the unknown is often one of the biggest obstacles to eating more nutritious, healthy food. Why not start a ‘Taste of…’ night each week to try different healthy ingredients from different countries? It will help introduce new flavours and encourage a more varied diet.
My last piece of advice for families looking to improve their fitness is to ditch the scales. Being pre-occupied by numbers and standardised ideas of a ‘healthy weight’ can actually end up doing more harm than good. If you boost activity, eat a balanced diet and have more fun you’ll soon find you and your family look and feel fitter, healthier and happier.