How to set up a family exercise plan
The benefits of family time are clear. Regular quality time with your kids improves their sense of well-being — and even helps build family bonds.1
Spend that time moving, and those perks may only increase — to the entire family’s advantage. Research has linked family fitness to improve communication and problem-solving skills among family members.2 It also can boost kids’ self-esteem, school performance, attention and behavior.3
“These are things that will serve your kids throughout their entire lives,” says Pete McCall, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
And that’s before you even get into the health benefits. For overall health, the World Health Organization recommends that children ages 5 to 17 get at least 420 minutes per week, or 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day.4
Meanwhile, adults should get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week, which could include a combiniation of the two — plus at least 2 days per week of strength training.4,5 You can break this time up into small segments that work for you.
Exercising together can help everyone hit those targets. Plus, when kids are active, they tend to stay active throughout their lives.6
Being more active is known to help adults sleep better, improve attention span and boost overall well-being.7 And all those benefits can help parents navigate the challenging moments of raising children.
Follow these 6 steps to create a family fitness plan that everyone can enjoy.
1. Set a SMART goal
Experts recommend using the SMART framework for goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound.8
When a goal is SMART, it’s do-able for you — and your family. Try setting a goal each week that’s achievable for your family’s schedule. What matters is consistency: doing something every day.
For example, complete this challenge by exercising as a family for 30 minutes per day (specific and measurable). It’s okay to break up the 30 minutes into smaller (achievable) chunks of time — like, 10 minutes in the morning. Or when you pick the kids up from childcare, or after dinner. Just aim for 30 minutes total.
What about the “realistic” part? Make sure the family decides together how to be active, so that it’s achievable for everyone. This helps set you up for success.
2. Play to all ability levels
When planning family fitness activities, think about whether they’re doable for every member of your family. If a certain activity is too hard or complicated — think tennis versus badminton — it can be a frustrating experience for kids. Of course, you may not realize that the activity is out of reach before you try it. If that’s the case, “Let kids now you’re proud of them for trying, even if it’s hard for them,” says Teresa L. Lovins, M.D., a board member for the American Academy of Family Physicians.
If any family members have chronic health conditions or disabilities, there’s no need to exclude them. Talk to their provider about what activities are safe — and which ones you might need to modify.
3. Keep everyone’s interests in mind
Just because every family member is able to do an activity doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy doing it. Encourage your family to suggest activities and incorporate their ideas into your weekly plan.
It’s especially important to involve children in the decision-making process, McCall notes. “It gives them ownership,” he says. That may help them feel more enthusiastic about trying an activity.
4. Try not to push
While the goal is to get the whole family involved, forcing children to join activities they really don’t care for may turn them off fitness in general. Incorporate everyone’s ideas and look for ways to make things fun. A game of tag, for example, may be a good option one day, or playing kick ball might work for another day. Even regular walks with the dog count. The goal is to get everyone’s heart pumping while having fun.
5. Give kids unstructured time
Children need a mix of structured activities and free play.9 So while it’s great to plan workouts and games with your kids, it’s also good to give them free time when they can be active, explains McCall, who does this with his children.
McCall does impose some structure by letting them choose between 3 options. For instance, do they want to head to the beach, hit the trails or go to the park? From there, they can decide what to do.
6. Keep it positive
Above all, when suggesting activities to your family, present it as a chance to have fun — and for everyone to feel their best.
“I’d encourage parents to focus on the positive aspects of being active, like focusing on being healthy and strong,” says Lovins. “The most important thing is to be encouraging.”