Make Physical Activity a Family Event

Nadia Hashemi-Toroghi, David Frisch, Courtney Novotny, & Jennifer Waldron, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa

We all know about the many benefits of physical activity and the negative consequences of inactivity. For example, physical inactivity leads to increased risk for diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, some cancers (breast, colon), and mental health issues. On the other hand, physical activity is related to an increased capacity for learning and concentration, as well as other physical and mental health benefits. Thus, as parents we want to implement physical activity into everyday life and encourage a healthy lifestyle among our children.

Physical activity is essential for healthy development and adopting physical activity habits early in life will increase the likelihood of children remaining physically active as adults. Participating in family physical activities helps children gain life skills as well as health benefits. For example, family physical activity can assist your child in learning teamwork, leadership skills, and quality decision-making.

Importance of Role Modeling

Parents and caregivers play an important role in shaping children’s ideas and development. Caregivers lead by example. Parents and guardians who display positive and healthy lifestyle choices influence the decisions and behaviors of their children. For example, children notice when you open a bag of carrots rather than a bag of potato chips for snack time. The following points are based on research in sport psychology and child development.

  • Children model the behavior of the adults in their lives.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Children are more affected by what they see their parents do than what their parents say.
  • Young adults often credit parents as sports or fitness role models.

Finding Time for Family Activity

How can you find family time for physical activity when you have a busy schedule?  Here are some suggestions.

  • At the beginning of each month identify weekly 30-minute time slots that all members of the family can dedicate to family fitness time.
  • Instead of watching TV after dinner, enjoy a family physical activity.
  • Ask other families to participate in an informal weekly game of soccer or volleyball.
  • Ask your children to select and organize activities.  It is empowering and motivating to be a part of the process and facilitates the development of both life skills and positive lifestyle behaviors.

Family physical activity need not be expensive. Here are some inexpensive options.  

  • Biking to the store or library
  • Rollerblading
  • Playing basketball in the park
  • Going ice skating or building snowmen
  • Having a family parade around the house with music and costumes (a good one to invite other families)
  • Walking the dog or volunteering as a family at local shelters to walk dogs
  • Playing disc golf
  • Visiting a museum
  • Working in the yard
  • Going on scavenger hunts
  • Playing yard games like catch, football, badminton, croquet
  • Blowing bubbles and chasing them
  • Stretching with the kids before taking them to school
  • Playing pretend animal games

Use community resources such as schools, YMCAs, churches, and parks and recreation services to find local events for engaging in physical activity (e.g., fun walk for charity). Second hand stores, garage sales, and used sporting good stores provide options for purchasing inexpensive equipment.

In today’s society, it is easy to overlook both family time and physical activity.  Try some of these ideas, or better yet – make up your own – and get double the benefits of improved health and family togetherness. 

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