Most of us know how good it feels to get moving. Getting started is often the hardest part.
Any activity that puts your body in motion and increases your heart rate can bring positive mental and physical health benefits.
Getting active can be as simple as taking a daily walk together, or tossing a ball around at the park, even choosing to take the stairs instead of an elevator.
Start with a simple daily activity and work up from there to move more and sit less. You might quickly notice the benefits of an active lifestyle, and feel a shift in mood and energy
How active is active enough?
Your goal as a family is to get some physical activity in every day of the week.
The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommends that children and youth need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (activities that bring on a good sweat) every day. Young children should play actively several times a day.
While any movement is a step in the right direction, the greater the intensity, the greater the health benefits. When your child is “huffing and puffing” this is a sign that they’re getting into the moderate to vigorous zone! Try activities like running, jumping, dancing, and even a good old-fashioned game of tag or hide-and-seek.
Even light physical activity, like going for an easy walk, moving around while at school, or doing some light household chores, makes a difference. Over a day, these activities really add up.
Make it a habit to keep up the daily activity, even over the school holidays.
Some is good, more is better, and everything counts
Is your child too tired to move after a long day at school? Out of energy by week’s end?
The good news? Physical activity is a powerful energizer. When we’re active, “feel-good" chemicals known as endorphins are released by the brain that help improve mood, sleep, energy levels, and focus.
Any physical activity that gets your heart pumping and the blood flowing will help charge energy levels. So, if your child is spending more time on the couch than on the field, try to show them the joys of getting active.
Sneak in a few stretches during a TV commercial. Take a fast-paced walk around the block after dinner. You can experience improvements in mood and energy even after 10 minutes of moderate physical activity.
By modelling your commitment to moving, you model staying active as a fun, vitalizing part of the family life.
Any physical activity is good, but regular physical activity is best.
Tips to make moving part of the family routine
Getting children into a consistent, active routine early on, sets everyone up for a lifetime healthy habit. To build physical activity into your day-to-day family routine, be sure to make it fun!
1. Try a range of activities across the day
Maybe your child participates in sports twice a week, and on Monday you go on a run together, or head to the swimming pool.
But being active isn’t something you need to do all at once.
You can spend that 60 minutes physical activity across the day. Every little bit counts. Your child can run around at lunch, take the stairs, bike to school, and finish with a backyard game of catch.
Short bursts of physical activity -- even for five minutes -- increases blood flow to the brain, giving your child more focus and attention.
Here are a few ideas for short, active breaks:
- Do a few star jumps after every 30-minutes of screen time. (Remember when you jump up, children often follow suit.)
- Move around the room or shake it up with some dance moves during TV commercials.
- Set a timer for 30 minutes of video games, then go for a family walk around the block.
- Try out five minutes of yoga stretches between homework tasks.
Whether you walk your child to school, or they bike to a friend’s house, you can build some fun into getting to every destination. Adding games to family walks get kids excited and increases their physical activity. Check out these boredom-busting, fun and safe games to play with your kids while walking.
Every day physical activities can sometimes be easier fit into your busy family life. And remember that some activity is always better than none.
2. Do it together
Movement is more fun when you do it as a family - whether it’s a beautiful forest walk or a fun bike ride to the beach.
Use your imagination. Bust out a favourite dance move on movie night, build an obstacle course in the backyard, or maybe sign up together for a charity walk.
Make sure your child gets a turn in choosing group activities. They can pick a route on the usual family walk. Or get creative and set up a playful “jar of family fun” where they pick a favourite physical activity each day, or week.
3. Connect with friends
Many children and youth like to socialize with friends, so why not build some physical activity into the fun?
Arrange a play date and go skating, swimming, roller skating, or visit the playground. Encourage a weekend meet-up at the skateboard park. Have them meet a friend for a walk instead of a phone catch-up.
If your child has trouble getting motivated, encourage them to join a group class with a friend so they can ease in more comfortably to a new activity.
Not only is doing it together often more fun, it can help motivate your child to be active, and stay active.
4. Put away the screens & move instead
Most of us probably put in too much screen time in a day - watching TV, checking our phones, glued to the computer screen.
With a little inspiration, you can reduce family screen time by finding activities your child will find just as engaging, and when your children are using screens, you can opt for videogames and exercise videos that get the whole body moving.
Make a point of reducing your own screen time as well, and sharing with your children how else you like to spend your time.
5. Start small and keep moving
If adding more family activity into the day feels too daunting, start small instead. Every step counts! Pick one new activity at a time and add more when everyone feels ready.
If your child already loves to climb, suggest a quick stop at a jungle gym. If they love kicking balls around, start with a few minutes of play in the backyard, then move up to a mini-game at the park before dinner.
For children who really struggle to get started, begin with just ten minutes of movement. Even a short walk around the block is great.
Once they get started, chances are they’ll want to keep moving. It’s also perfectly fine to stop at ten minutes and pick up the activity the next day. It’s best not to force physical activity if your child really isn’t feeling up for it.
6. Build a plan to increase physical activity
As your child moves more, they may no longer run out of breath, huffing and puffing doing the same amount of activity as before.
You’ll find that as their bodies adapt - building more strength, endurance, or aerobic ability - you can slowly increase the time or intensity of the activity. For example, a 30-minute low-key play date turns into 45 minutes of running around without them even needing a pause.
7. Schedule it in
Children pick up on the energy in their home so make family activity a priority, indoors and out.
Try to plan activities together and put it on a family calendar. Have your child check-off activities as they go to make it more fun, and maybe even add in some fun rewards to keep everyone on track and motivated.
If you can, keep the schedule flexible to see what works best for your child. Some children might respond well to a few fun morning exercises. Other children may feel more energetic in the late afternoon, so consider a regular family walk after dinner.
If your child loves the outdoors or playing sports on the weekend, set aside time to let them roam on a Saturday. Mix it up so that active weekend outings are something everyone looks forward to.
A word on using rewards to get children moving
Using rewards, such as special treats, to get children to be more active can be tempting. The challenge? Children may grow hesitant to be active without the reward.
To promote physical activity for the long term, tap into your child’s internal motivations.
Show them how they will feel more energized, improve their skills, or feel better and more focused overall when they’re active.
If you do decide to use rewards to promote activity, here are some helpful approaches:
- Set a weekly or monthly goal for a reward, rather than a daily one. Use a calendar to track progress in a fun way so they stay motivated for a longer period.
- Choose rewards that inspire physical activity. For example, let them pick out a new toy such as a kick ball or basketball, a sand bucket, skate board, kite, or pogo jumper.
- If your child just can’t seem to get started, help them recognize the difference in their mood or energy levels before and after an activity. They may get hooked on the feeling of having more energy and feeling better.
- Find more ideas on using non-food rewards in our Eating Well section.