Family life

Family exercise

Easy ways to build more motion into your lives

By Alison Wood
Family exercise

We know you’ve heard it all before: We grown-ups should be getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily. And kids need even more — 90 minutes. But this bit of movement goes a long way, keeping weight and blood pressure in check, our hearts and lungs working well, and building strong bones. Yet, according to Health Canada, two-thirds of us are still inactive. And the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) says, “More than half of Canadian children and youth are not active enough for optimal growth and development.”

The good news is that getting physical is easier than you may think. Forget the all-out, hour-long sweat-fest and find 10-minute windows of activity throughout your day. Here are some ways to get all of your family moving.

Waking up Don’t hit the snooze button. Use that time to stretch your body out of slumber mode. Not only does stretching increase blood flow and flexibility, it also starts your day off on a calmer note. Worried your kids will snicker at you? Have them join you instead! See

Walking the dog It’s tempting to just let Spot out in the backyard to do his business, but both you and your canine will benefit from a brisk walk. If you have only a few minutes, maximize your activity level by picking up the pace. Try to build in longer walks on weekends; choose routes and parks with some hills. Make it a game and race your kids to the top.

Getting to school If you can, leave the car keys at home, and help your body and the environment. Depending on distance, even young kids can walk or cycle at least partway — just build a little more time into your morning. Even your preschooler can get in more stepping while you run errands together or walk to nursery school — just let him out of the wagon or stroller every so often. “It’s important to get kids out of the stroller as much as possible,” explains Claire LeBlanc, chair of the CPS’s Healthy Active Living and Sport Medicine Committee. Think about creating a walking school bus with neighbours, so each of you takes a turn supervising a group of walkers. Older kids might be able to travel the distance in groups without parents.

Shopping for groceries Buy a wheelie buggy and fill up with groceries in your neighbourhood. Between the walk to and fro, and the cruise around the aisles, you’ll build extra activity into your day and support your local shops.

Doing chores Canadian autumns mean leaves — often lots of them. Nix the leaf blower and enlist the troops for a family rake ’n’ roll session: After the kids make a big enough pile, they can jump in the leaves for 10 minutes. Repeat until you’re all tired. There are also plenty of other outdoor chores the kids can help you with, such as preparing the garden for winter, clearing out the garage to make way for winter gear (or the car), and cleaning windows.

Spending time together If family time is kicking back with a flick and popcorn on a Friday night, try swapping it for something that gets you out of the house and moving. Canvas the kids for their top picks and choose a new activity each week, such as soccer, dodgeball and even a silly game of Twister. Some community centres offer family gym hours for climbing on the equipment, playing badminton or shooting hoops. You can’t beat a bike ride through the ’hood. Heck, even a game of bowling will get you up and moving.

Playing around Kids love the park. Too often, though, parents spend the time drinking coffee while watching them swing and slide. Up the activity by launching a spirited game of tag. Ten minutes of “chase and catch” and all hearts will be pumping. And who can resist a twirl around the ice at an arena? Bump up the fun by inviting along friends or family for a group party.

Finding new hobbies Step out of your comfort zone and sign up the family for new activities, such as indoor rock climbing or geocaching — an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS devices for all ages of adventure seekers. Take in a trail ride or shop your local farmers’ markets for in-season goodies, then cook up a healthy meal together.

Swimming Few kids can resist splashing around in the pool. Swimming lessons are a great way to stay fit and learn water safety, says LeBlanc. But don’t forget to enjoy free swim as a family. Depending on ages and abilities, you and the kids can dive for rings at the bottom of the pool or play old-school games, such as Marco Polo.

Visiting the lions and bears Penguins in one area. Monkeys in another. Zoos offer an educational look at a wide range of animals in their habitats. Their large geographical areas also offer an engaging way to tire out the legs. Bring a wagon for bags and snacks and you’ll be surprised how long kids can walk.

Hitting the trails Forests are filled with fun ways to explore. Take a few minutes to come up with a creative list of things to find — different types of leaves, a piece of bark, cool-shaped rocks, lost coins — and challenge the kids to a scavenger hunt. Give bonus points for extra-cool discoveries.

Busting after-school stress Do your kids come home after school and collapse in front of the TV in the name of chilling out? Instead of screen time, challenge kids to a game of knee hockey using mini hockey sticks. Roll up the carpet and pick your teams, or take shots in the hallway. You can also create an indoor or outdoor obstacle course, or blow up some balloons and bat them back and forth.

Goofing off Structured games are great, but don’t discount an impromptu tickle-fest or wrestling match. Rolling around on the floor with kids of all ages is an awesome way to keep that bond strong and get the heart pumping.

Body Boosts

Quick ways for grown-ups to painlessly build activity into their week:

• Volunteer to do warm-ups at your child’s soccer, hockey or baseball practice.
• Do some leg lifts and shoulder and neck stretches while at your computer (see
• Walk some extra laps at the mall, or around the soccer field or hockey arena while your child practises.
• Pump up the volume on the stereo and groove to the beat while cooking dinner.

Move it, Move it

Got a great idea to get kids away from the TV and playing in the neighbourhood instead? Then you might be eligible for a grant of up to $25,000 to get your project going. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is offering support to community groups in Ontario who are looking to change kids’ lives. Spark Together for Healthy Kids funds projects that boost kids’ physical activity and encourage healthy eating. Projects already underway include Healthy Choices, which brings together members of the Atikokan community to discuss ways to combat childhood obesity, and the Youth Heart Health Program of North York, which trains kids to advocate for healthy food in their schools. Find out more at

This article was originally published on Sep 07, 2010

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