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Let's Get Physical! 20 Easy Exercise Ideas for Parents and Kids

"Don’t look at it as exercise — instead, play games and have a ton of fun! The main thing is just to get outside every day and do something you think is fun. You can play sports like soccer, basketball, or badminton. You can play games like freeze tag or ride a bike or do running races with your friends or family. You can go on hikes with your family or go swimming or paddling. Do lots of different things, and again, focus on having fun, and doing it often.” – Leo Babauta

You're a parent, so you don’t have time to exercise, right?   I can relate. But moving our bodies is a basic part of self-care.  We can't nurture our kids with emotional generosity unless we nurture ourselves at the same time. And we aren't fully nurturing ourselves unless we figure out a way to get physical. 

We all feel a lot more energetic when we move and stretch.  It changes the chemistry of our bodies so we're happier, more relaxed, and our bodies are healthier.  We not only look better, we feel better -- and so we "act" better as parents. Exercise is the best stress reducer there is, after deep breathing and getting enough sleep. What more incentive do you need?

If you can motivate yourself to go out running, or to the gym, and you can leave the kids with your partner or trade off with a friend, you’ve got it covered. But if you’re like the rest of us, you need to find fun ways to be active while you're WITH your children.  Luckily, you have children to be active with, so you have a head start!

Kids love it when you play physically with them. It’s a terrific way to add some connection and fun back into a relationship that too often deteriorates into correction and conflict. You don't need to tell your kids this exercising is for you -- they'll assume it's special family time! And if your child is spending too much time staring at screens, this is the best way to get her up and moving.

The secret is setting aside the time. Even ten minutes a day outside together is a great start during the week. On the weekend, you can plan an outing. Before you know it, you'll have worked up to 20 minutes daily, with an hour on weekend days. Sure, you'll skip some days. But if that's more exercise than you're getting now, read on.

Simply put your "Let's Get Physical" time on the calendar. Then, choose a fun family activity that requires physical exertion. When you find something you love doing, do more of it. Soon you’ll have a whole repertoire of family physical activities that make you happy.

For instance:

  • Put on music and dance with your family.
  • Use your little one as a football; run her around the rest of the family into the end zone. Your kids will love it.
  • Take a soccer ball outside and take turns chasing each other as you dribble the ball. Kids love the soccer practice.
  • Play tag or frisbee with your children.
  • Join your kids on the monkey bars. Great upper body workout! Who cares what the other parents think?
  • When you're confined to the house, play "Take off each others' socks," wrestling, or chase games. (Anything that gets your kids laughing. That's a huge bonus, because you're helping them evaporate any anxieties they're carrying around.)
  • Take turns being the leader and have the rest of the family follow, doing jumping jacks, sun salutations, situps, or invented moves.
  • Keep any bubble wrap that comes your way in a bag at the back of your closet. On a rainy day, pull it out for a Bubble-Wrap dance party!
  • Get work-out DVDs from the library, or watch on YouTube, and exercise with your kids.

For outings:

  • Load the kids into the car and drive to the track at your local high school in the evening or on the weekend when it’s empty.  Let the kids ride their trikes or bikes around the track, while you walk or jog.
  • Join the local Y or pool so you can swim all year. Just put floaties or other floatation wear on your child, hold him in one arm on your hip, and swim with the other arm for a terrific workout.
  • “Baby & Me” yoga classes will help you keep good form while you get your stretch on.
  • Listen to your favorite podcasts while you walk briskly with your little one in a carrier or stroller.
  • Take family pride in how far you can park from your destination and walk. ("Is this a two block day? Let's go for it!")
  • Let your exercise time double as social time by walking with a friend and her child; the kids will entertain each other.
  • Chasing your toddler all over the playground? Instead of resenting it, get a pedometer, and work up to 10,000 steps a day.
  • If your child is old enough, bike or roller blade together. One dad I know took up skate boarding with his 10 year old.
  • Want to get an older child moving? Do a charity run together.

When you're working outside the home:

  • Walk or bike to work (If it takes an extra 15 minutes each way, that's a small price to pay for so much exercise.)
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
  • Walk around your office while you're on the phone. Use a pedometer and keep trying to increase your daily steps.
  • Stand up to work whenever possible.

You won't believe how much ten minutes of movement daily will lift your mood. And when we feel good, it has an almost magical effect on our children. We have a lighter touch, and a sense of humor. We don't get triggered as easily. All of which makes our kids happier and more cooperative. So think of this as "we" time-- bonding time with your family that gives you huge collateral benefits.

You're also getting your child hooked on an active lifestyle, which is a great counter-balance to all that screen-time in our lives. Kids who are physically active into the preteen and teen years are 75% less likely to be overweight when they're grown.

If you do this every single day, you'll all start looking forward to it. Way to nurture yourself and your child at the same time! 

***

This is post #3 in our series on self care: The Secret of the Full Cup

#1 -The Secret of the Full Cup: Self Care

#2- 10 Stress Busting Strategies for Parents


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