One of the best ways to get kids to exercise is by finding ways to get them active without making it feel like actual exercise. Thanks to video games and computers, today's kids live a more sedentary life, so it is more important than ever to get them moving whenever possible. From fun games to trampoline tricks and even yoga, here are 10 steps you can take to get your kids to play hard and thus get exercise without even knowing it!
Even though these are exercises in the sense that they increase muscle strength, burn calories and get your heart pumping, sports and exercise mental-skills coach Carrie Cheadle, M.A., advises against calling them exercises — at least to your kids!
"When kids play games, they don't even realize they are breaking a sweat — they are just having fun. Some kids are intimidated when you call it 'exercise,'" she says. "If you want to get your kids more active, figure out ways to get them to play."
Step 1: Create a superhero-in-training
"When I work with kids, I use total-body exercises and get them energized by relating the exercise to something that excites them," says personal trainer Paul Dziewisz. "The 6-year-old son of one of my clients loves superheroes, so each workout with his mom, I show him an exercise that mimics the movements of a superhero. Now, Connor happily does a Superman, a Wolverine and a Batman exercise."
Dziewisz advises setting up three orange cones and shuffling back and forth between them.
He says, "The exercise doesn't need to be magical, but the way the child relates to it does. You'll be surprised at the exercises they will do when the exercise is wrapped up in something they love."
Or follow these easy steps from Simple Kids to create your own backyard obstacle course using cones.
Step 2: Do a hoop dance
Using hula-hoops is a great way to build kids' core strength while working on coordination and rhythm — and having a ball!
"Try hula-hooping with your kids for exercise after school," says Andrea Metcalf, author of Naked Fitness. "That's the time that energy is lowest for everyone due to the circadian rhythms of light/night hormones. Hula-hooping is fun and easy if you have a hoop the right size," says Metcalf, who recommends getting a smaller-sized hula-hoop for the kids and one that weighs about one pound for yourself so you can sneak in some extra exercise, too.
"One exercise we love to do as a family is Playground Olympics," says Dr. Christina Schlachter. "The rules are as follows: You have to go through all the playground equipment (swing on swings, slide down slides, climb all the bars and hand-walk the monkey bars), and whoever gets through first wins. Do this for a half-hour and you'll burn 200-300 calories!"
You can get a workout in during this time by helping your little ones through the equipment. Check out Live Well Network for more tips on making your playground time count for your sweat session, too!
Step 4: Jump on the trampoline
Did you know that just 10 minutes of jumping on a trampoline can equal the health benefits of running for half an hour!
"Jumping is key to a child's mental and physical development and helps to accelerate the progress of motor skills, balance and coordination," says Beth Wilkinson of Springfree Trampoline.
Make sure your trampoline has a safety net, and then try out these fun moves:
Seat drops: Jump up and pull your legs straight in front you, parallel to the mat. Land seated on the mat and rebound back up to a standing position so that you're ready to jump up and repeat in a continuous motion.
Knee lifts: As you jump up, pull your knees up to your chest and try to touch your feet. This move helps tone your lower-body muscles.
Starfish: As you jump up, quickly extend your legs and arms horizontally into a starfish position. Pull your legs and arms back in to return to the mat in the basic jump position.
Step 5: Try yoga for kids
Image credit: Kristin Bustamante
Yoga is not only great for adults but for kids as well. It strengthens their muscles, improves core strength and increases balance, agility and coordination. Anna Weeks, a yoga instructor who heads up a kids' program, says that one of the popular poses for kids is the Simhasana or Lion Pose.
"For the kids' class, we have everyone sit on their heels and place their hands on their thighs. Sitting up tall, we take a big inhale and then 'roar,' sticking the tongue out. After a few rounds, we hold the pose with the tongue out, looking up in between the eyebrows," she explains.
"Kids love this pose because they get to playing, 'stalking' and roaring like a lion. It's really helpful for stretching the quadriceps and ankles and strengthening the diaphragm, which improves breathing. It's also great for releasing tension in the upper body, particularly the facial muscles."
For more yoga fun, break out the Twister game.
"Twister is yoga in disguise," says fitness business owner Grant Hill.
Step 6: Jump to it
FamilyFun magazine, which publishes a "Get Active" feature in every issue, suggests building a hurdle set to get your kids jumping.
"With PVC pipe fittings and colorful tape, you can build a set of three hurdles for less than $15. Jumping over and crawling through the hurdles will help your kids improve their agility, and they can use them as goals for backyard ballgames," says the magazine.
Step 7: Let the good times roll
In addition to hurdle jumping, FamilyFun advises using an exercise ball for some fun, kid-friendly activities. A big, bouncy exercise ball makes even the work of getting fit seem fun.
Kids as young as 5 can reap the benefits, according to New York City–based kids' fitness expert Steve Ettinger. The balls naturally lend themselves to playful movement while improving balance, strength and stability. You'll want to get a ball sized so that your child can sit on it with her feet on the floor and her knees and hips at 90-degree angles.
Step 8: Make activity flash cards
It doesn't have to be a perfectly sunshiny day to sneak some kid-friendly exercise into your day. Take a cue from No Time for Flash Cards and create an active game that can be done indoors or out. Simply write some fun activities (such as crab crawling or karate kicks) on note cards (one activity per card) and then flip them over with your kids and demonstrate the action written on each card.
Step 9: Be video game–friendly
According to Kathy Kaehler, celebrity trainer and USANA spokesperson, "Not all video games are about becoming a couch potato. The Wii Fit and many others now have workout-themed games. Encourage your kids to get physical by skiing, dancing, balancing and more."
Kids love balloons, and there are so many active games they can play with them.
Kathy suggests, "Inflate one for each child who's old enough to play with balloons and challenge them to keep their balloon up in the air. Extra cheers to the kids who can bend and stretch in creative ways to keep that balloon afloat."
Or take a tip from Motherhood on a Dime and fill up water balloons, draw a big target ring with sidewalk chalk on your driveway and let your kids take aim! (We suggest filling up a few extra for water balloon "tag" afterward!)