FUN PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES FOR FAMILIES

Do you ever wish your children would be more physically active? Would you like to spend more time together doing activities as a family?

Family biking togetherBeing physically active with your partner, your children, grandparents, cousins and other relatives is a great idea! All family members can get health benefits by being more active. Plus, the more time you spend with family members, the stronger your family connections will become.

Beyond the physical benefits and family bonding time, being active as a family can also help to teach your children valuable life skills. For instance, many activities involve organization, planning, communications and teamwork, along with fun, excitement, and good family times. All of these experiences will be good for the kids (and the adults)!

Regular Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Did you know that the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children (ages 5 – 11) and youth (ages 12 – 17) accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigourous physical activity each day? This is only the minimum recommendation; more is even better for their health!

Regular physical activity is vital to your children’s health and well-being, and leads to improved habits that they can carry through into adulthood. Activity choices for children and youth should be mostly aerobic and include vigorous activity (such as soccer), as well as strengthening activities (such as skipping).

The benefits of regular physical activity for children include: 

  • Building strong bones and muscles
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Improving physical self-esteem
  • Increasing relaxation and improving sleep

Adults Can Lead the Way
To boost your family’s physical activity levels, the adults in the family have to “step up” too! By leading the way and adding family-oriented activities to your family’s daily schedule, it can really help to boost the amount of physical activity that you and your family members achieve.

At a minimum, adults and older adults should build at least 150 minutes of moderate activity into their weekly schedule. If you can do more, all the better for your health!

Some of the common benefits of regular physical activity for adults and older adults include:

  • Sleeping better and feeling more relaxed
  • Having more energy, plus better physical and mental health
  • Building stronger muscles and bones
  • Better posture and balance
  • Reduced risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis
  • Improved ability to continue with independent living, due to better physical health

More Reasons to Be “Family Active”
Perhaps you have memories of playing with your parents or grandparents? Being active as a whole family can bring your family closer together. For example, a family walk, or a family game of croquet, bocce ball or baseball can be a lot of fun, for all ages.

Other simple, fun activities are a good way to get everyone moving. Try different activities that involve jumping, throwing, catching and kicking. These kinds of basic activities will help your children learn important skills they need every day at school and at play. 

By being active with your kids, giving them constant encouragement, and showing a sense of fair play and good sportsmanship, gives them a healthy, active role model to follow.

Suggested Fun Activities
What games or activities did you enjoy as a child? Were you a soccer player? Did you enjoy hockey, skating or baseball? Suggest some of your own favourites to your kids; they may also enjoy those same activities.

Or, make a list of all the family’s favourites and take turns doing different activities. Invite grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and see how many relatives you can get to participate!

Indoor Ideas
Here are just a few indoor activity suggestions that the whole family can enjoy:

  • Badminton, basketball, floor hockey or volleyball (at a local school gym, YMCA or similar facility)
  • Swimming
  • Visit an indoor playground facility
  • Mall walking
  • Quick soccer game in your basement
  • Do “family fun” workouts (for any/all age groups) in a home gym or exercise space (turn on the music and move about, do aerobics, or dance together)

Outdoor Fun
For most people, it usually feels great to be outdoors and get fresh air and exercise. For outdoor fun, be prepared to ensure the fun lasts and your family remains safe; check the weather forecast, dress appropriately and use proper sports or safety equipment.

Here are just a few ideas for winter outdoor fun:

  • Ice skating
  • Shovelling snow at your residence; for more of a workout, shovel your neighbour’s snow
  • Build snow sculptures, a snow slide, or a fort
  • Tobogganing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Downhill or cross-country skiing

For summer outdoor fun, try some of these family-oriented ideas:

  • Hiking (in local areas, or plan a trip to hiking destinations, such as national parks)
  • Roller-blading
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming (at a nearby lake or outdoor pool)
  • Baseball (or just a game of catch in the yard)

It helps to be well prepared for outdoor summer fun. All family members should use sunscreen and wear a hat, to avoid sunburn and sunstroke. Plus, everyone should drink lots of water to avoid dehydration under a hot sun; make sure every family member has their own water bottle and plan to bring extra water or get refills wherever your activities take you.

All-season activities, such as walking, are a great way to keep your family active all year long. The following suggestions are great ideas, in warm or cold weather:

  • Walk often in your neighbourhood, and/or on local trails in park areas
  • Walk your dog twice or more, daily; have family members go together or take turns
  • Enjoy a family walk after dinner; for special fun, take flashlights and let the kids play with them along the route

No Need to Break the Family Budget
Sometimes, the cost of group activities may be high, but there are lots of ways to be active without breaking your budget.

  • For instance, a family bike ride can go for many kilometres, with no gasoline or travel costs at all!
  • Gathering family members together for a walk in the park or on local trails won’t cost a cent; combine it with a picnic, a barbecue or a campfire (summer or winter!) to make the gathering even more fun and memorable.

Aim to include as many low-cost activities in your lifestyle as you can, such as walking, swimming at local lakes, running or hiking. For activities that may cost more, try these approaches:

  • Buy second-hand gear (e.g., a used canoe, used skates, used ski equipment)
  • Borrow or exchange basic gear or equipment with relatives or friends
  • Rent gear or equipment rather than buying
  • Plan/budget ahead to do certain activities (but only as often as you can afford to)
  • Start a family project to save money for a favourite item or type of equipment (e.g., this could be a small item such as a quality football or top-of-the line Frisbee, or a larger purchase such as new or used cross-country skis, boots and poles for one or more family members)

Planning Steps for Parents
In today’s busy world, there are so many things that can get in the way of family physical activity. For instance, many families have children (and adults) who are too often preoccupied with using various electronic devices, such as television, computers, mobile phones, gaming equipment and more. In most cases, these types of “screen time” are largely inactive, or sedentary time.

To help you and your kids be more active, make a plan. First, talk to your kids about the importance of being more active and get them to think about their favourite physical activities. Then, make a plan to decrease screen time by 20 or 30 minutes each week. (At the same time, reduce your own screen time, so the kids can follow your example.)

By setting easy, initial goals for each family member, you’ll have a better chance of early success and building the family’s momentum towards physical activity objectives. At each stage of your plan, you can jointly track each other’s physical activity levels, until each family member reaches at least the minimum levels recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Once you have all reached the first set of goals, you can work as a family towards your next set of goals.

At times, you may feel like you’ve taken on a huge challenge; but the payback will be worth it, in terms of family fun and lasting health benefits!

Put “PA” on the Family Calendar
For parents, making the move to boost family activity levels is a positive step forward!

Here are a few more suggestions to help you build more physical activity or “PA” into your family’s lifestyle:

  • Look at your family calendar and pick out any open time slots for each day of the month (even 30 minutes/day is a good start).
  • Then, simply schedule different activities into the open slots.

It helps to have a family discussion or two about your ideas and plans. Kids (and adults!) often like to think things over before trying new things, so make your plans slowly and be encouraging towards everyone.

For younger children, explaining the reasons to be active can sometimes be a challenge. Let them know that it’s important for “mom and dad” to be more active, so they can be healthier. The same is true for grandparents; tell the children that being active is not only good for their own health, but it’s equally important for all their loved ones.

Do your best to make sure your family knows all of the positive reasons for being more active, and keep it fun!

Another way to add physical activity into your existing family routines is to change your routines just a little bit. For instance:

  • Try walking the kids to school (rather than driving)
  • When parking your vehicle, park it further away from building entrances (this way you will be walking more)
  • Involve the kids more in helping you with chores, such as shovelling snow and household tasks

Invite Friends and Family
Bringing friends and relatives into your family’s “PA” plans can also help to get everyone moving. For selected activities, invite friends and neighbours to join you! For example:

  • Meet at a local pool for a swim
  • Meet at a local skating rink, followed by hot chocolate at the rink or your home
  • Get a game of street hockey going (keep the sides fair and equal, in terms of age groups and skill levels)
  • At a local facility, make plans for a casual game of soccer or baseball

To help you organize these kinds of group activities, it often helps to give advance notice. Try to plan ahead and perhaps invite people by e-mail. If a large group shows interest, great! If only a few can attend, modify your plans so at least the small group will use the time to be physically active.

Future Health Benefits
Being active with your whole family is a great way to connect with each other, while doing something good for your mind and body.  Beyond the physical benefits (such as building strong muscles, sleeping better and fending off chronic disease), you can teach your children valuable life skills and show them how physical activity can be a vital part of their lifestyle, now and into the future.

One thing is for sure; it’s natural for children to enjoy being active with their parents. If you are prepared to “get in the game” and do your part to boost your family’s activity levels, your kids are sure to join in. Aim to choose activities that are fun for all, or take turns doing different “favourites” selected by family members.

Learn More
Physical Activity Resources from the Public Health Agency of Canada
A variety of resources to help you be more active, including tip sheets for different age groups.

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines
Published by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and endorsed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and ParticipACTION.

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