6 fun ways to get your cardio activity

Aerobic activities raise both your heart rate and breathing. Because this type of movement gets the heart pumping, it’s commonly referred to as cardiovascular activity or “cardio.” These workouts can benefit everyone in the family.

Cardio workouts are vital to strengthening kids’ hearts and lungs — making sure oxygen effectively reaches cells as they develop, says Pete McCall, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and exercise physiologist. And they’re an easy way for kids to build strength, endurance and bone health that will benefit them for decades to come.

Likewise, for adults, aerobic exercise makes the heart pump faster to get more oxygen into the body.1 That strengthens the heart (and lungs), which may help lower the risk of heart disease, among other chronic conditions.2

To keep hearts and bodies healthy, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of the two. For adults, this translates to a minimum of about 150 minutes a week broken out over a week.3

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that toddlers spend at least 180 minutes being active per day. And children ages 5 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity per day.4

Of course, all that running around doesn’t have to be in one go, for you or the kids. You can spread it out into 10- or 20-minute time blocks. Or you can mix up moderate intensity activity (a walk to the park) with vigorous (playing tag once you get there).

You might think the best way to get in cardio workouts is by joining a gym or enrolling the kids in sports camps. Not necessarily. Playing may be the best cardio there is. And fun is the single most important factor in keeping up a consistent cardio habit — especially as a family.

Follow these tips to dial up your family fitness as it relates to aerobic activities.

1. Go for games

Frisbee, basketball, tag, kickball. There’s no end to the number of games that can get your whole family moving. For younger children, games like “Simon Says” or “Follow the Leader” challenge their physical skills, from hopping on one foot to doing somersaults. These types of games can also boost a child’s listening skills and ability to focus.5

Slightly older children might enjoy running around while you call out things for them to do — run from tree to tree or crawl as fast as you can from the living room to the kitchen. Or you can kick a ball around with them if your kids are into sports like soccer.

2. Take advantage of the outdoors

There are many mind-body benefits that come from getting outside. One perk is that children may play harder when they’re outdoors, which is good for boosting their physical skills and their hearts.6

When you’re all outside, make sure to keep your family well-hydrated by taking frequent water breaks. Staying hydrated is crucial for everyone, but because of their smaller bodies, kids are more susceptible than average adults to dehydration, especially in warm weather.7

Or try an old-school nature scavenger hunt. Scale it up or down depending on the age of each child. For example, little kids can look for red leaves in the park. Older children can be given a list of items (pinecones, acorns, particular flowers) and see how many they can find.

3. Get adventurous

Kids have a way of being fearless and just going for it. You can all make memories by safely stepping outside your comfort zone. For example, buy a day pass to a rock-climbing gym or go kayaking. 

4. Sign up for an organized fun run

Fun runs (or walks) may be another good opportunity to get moving. Everybody’s outside, you’re part of a large group of people and there’s typically some kind of celebration at the end. Read tips on signing up for your first community or charity event

5. Go for a stroll after dinner

Even if you only do it once a week, a regular post-dinner family walk can help create healthy habits that your kids may continue as they get older. For adults, not only will you increase your step counts that day, but even a 2-minute walk around the block may help to regulate blood sugar after you eat and keep everyone healthier.8

To keep it interesting for younger children, you could play “I Spy” as you walk. Older kids may appreciate the time to unwind and talk. Walking together can be great for bonding.

6. Don’t be afraid to get silly

Exercise doesn’t need to be serious. Sometimes the silliest ideas can be the most fun. Maybe you host a water balloon fight or throw a dance party in the living room. With young kids, you can simply run around the house pretending to be superheroes, suggests McCall.

The important thing is that your family is moving and building memories. “Being active is a time the whole family can smile and have fun,” says McCall. “It does help bring people together.”

This article is part of UnitedHealthcare’s 6-Day Family Fitness Challenge. Being active — at every age and stage — is key to overall health. And getting the whole family involved makes it more fun and sets good habits early on. We’re helping families get moving, and we encourage every member of the household to join.

Ready to check out the rest of the Family Fitness Challenge? Read more:

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