The Importance of Being Active
Developing healthy habits works best if done from an early age. However, we can always learn new healthy habits as we get older. Staying active is hugely important for kids' development as well as adults' health (and weight). So why not incorporate family activities together to promote healthy habits?
Remember the days of playing outside all day until it was dinner time? Hardly watching tv unless it was raining outside or you were sick? In this day and age, it’s very common for kids to spend a huge part of the day watching tv, playing on a tablet or computer, or playing video games on an Xbox or Wii.
I can’t stress enough how important exercise is to the health of a family. As busy parents who work outside the home, or even as busy parents who work in the home, finding the time to exercise can be a real challenge. Seriously, when you are chasing a toddler around all day, who has the time (or energy) to do cardio for an hour?
Not only is physical activity crucial to the health of all family members, it’s an important foundational structure element for kids. Our children model their lives after the role models they had growing up…that’s us! If their model is an inactive lifestyle, they will emulate that and adopt it in their own lives.
However, if kids have a model of an active lifestyle, they will also model that, even if their choice of activity differs from that of their parents’. If we want them to exercise, we need to exercise. And preferably, we need to exercise together!
Family Activities to do Together
When families adopt an active lifestyle (which goes hand in hand with healthy eating habits), it creates a culture of wellness within the family. It helps to form the belief that healthy habits are a good thing – something to strive for – rather than a punishment or a negative consequence of eating too many treats.
The easiest way to model a healthy, active lifestyle for our kids is to participate in activities and have them join us. Family activities done together not only helps to build healthy habits, it also makes memories together and creates great family bonding time.
Not sure where to start? Here are 5 very achievable and simple activities that you can do with your family today!
Hiking/take walks/nature walks
If you live in an area close to mountains or hiking trails, hiking is a very easy way to get everyone active. You can start easy with shorter, more flat trails and work your way up as you get better at hiking.
Pro Parent tip: nature is a child’s paradise because there is so much to see and explore – sights, sounds, smells, and textures that may not be found near or in the home.
If you don’t live near hiking trails, explore walking trails or nature walks near your home. A stroll through the woods, or a walk along a nearby river or on the beach are just as enriching as a hike through the mountains.
Want more tips for a successful hike?
I highly recommend letting your child explore on your adventure! Children learn best through manipulating their environment. Picking up sticks, touching rocks, smelling flowers, watching a bird fly or dive for fish, sitting next to a creek and listening to the sounds of the water – these are all learning and growing experiences for children.
And, more often than not, they are wonderfully calming and centering experiences for adults!
When your kids are super young (infant and young toddler), put them in a pack and carry them on your adventure. Start them as early as you can, and they’ll never know the experience of an inactive lifestyle!
If your children are young (toddler to under 4 years old), start slow and keep the walk or hike short (say, under a mile). Slowly build up time and distance with regular practice. Add in variety (different trails or different stops on the same trail) from time to time to keep in interesting.
When they got slightly older (from about 3 years old or so until they could ride their own bike well), they rode on a tandem seat behind my husband’s bike.
Parent Pro Tip: this glider bike made the process of learning how to ride a bike so much easier for my kids – plus, we got to skip training wheels! I personally love this style of glider bike because it provided a footrest for my kids to practice balancing once they got moving.
For the last couple of years we have all been riding our own bikes, and up until this summer, our family rides were 4 miles or shorter in length.
This past year brought a large change in our kids’ stamina and endurance. Just recently we went on a 6.5 mile hike followed by a 13.5 mile bike ride the next day. Oh, happy day!
We have been anxiously waiting for the day when a family activity would also become a cardio activity for us.
As someone who didn’t learn to swim until I was 12 years old, I am a huge proponent of learning to swim early. Swimming is not only an important life-saving skill, it’s also wonderful low-impact exercise and tons of fun!
I started my kids in swim lessons at around 2 years old. Before then, we would play in the bathtub, blow bubbles in the water, and get used to having water in our faces.
What I discovered along the way is that kids pick things up so easily at young ages and do this best when learning opportunities are presented as naturally as possible so it doesn't seem like “work”!
Now, we go to the pool and play and do races and flips and slides and just have a blast together as a family, being active together. In fact, one of our favorite weekend day activity combos is to go for a bike ride and then cool off in a pool. Doing all that activity and getting all that fresh air really wears our boys out (win-win for us)!
Sports – basketball, baseball, climbing, volleyball, soccer
Sports are a wonderful way of being active while also working on things like hand-eye coordination and body awareness. Plus they are just fun!
Kick a soccer ball around in the backyard or go to a local park and play catch or basketball.
Sports are fantastic because they are easy to play in a relaxed way. If you don't have enough people, easily modify them with only a couple of players. One example might be playing catch vs. a full game of baseball.
You really are limited only by your imagination as to what you can do!
Do a 5K together
If you are a runner, take your kids with you as you do a local community 5K. Many 5Ks have parents with strollers participating. It’s a great way to introduce the kids to the experience at a very young age.
Many communities are incorporating more “fun” runs. If you aren't sure what that is, themed 5Ks to make it more about the experience than the run. Examples include bubble runs, tough mudders, super hero runs, and so much more. These are generally very family-friendly, so check your community to see what is offered!
We did a local 5K on Thanksgiving Day this past year called the Turkey Trot. It was even free to do (we brought a food donation for the food bank as “payment”)! Starting Thanksgiving morning with some activity as a family was a blast. And I loved not feeling guilty about gorging myself with food later!
Stay Hydrated and Fueled
When going on activities, make sure to have a system for staying hydrated. Our family loves to wear hydration backpacks so that each member is carrying his or her own water. And what's really nice is that it makes the water easily accessible, even during activity. But other options include a water bottle to carry around or attach to a bike.
Also, if your activity lasts longer than about an hour, be sure to take along a small snack for fuel. You'll thank me when you avoid those hunger-induced temper tantrums!
Carbs and protein are good sources of fuel. Cheese sticks, trail mix, and raisins or grapes are good, portable, kid-friendly snacks to bring on activities.
Doing activities together as a family gets everyone healthier and teaches healthy habits to kids that will last a lifetime. Another huge benefit is that being active together creates memories that all family members will cherish for many, many years.
Have you ever tried any of these activities as a family? Or do you have other favorite family activities? Comment below!
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