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Families, Fitness and Fun: 10 Tips for Improving Family Time and Fitness

Families, Fitness and Fun: 10 Tips for Improving Family Time and Fitness

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By Sean Brotherson, Ph.D.
Extension Family Science Specialist and Associate Professor
Department of Human Development and Family Science, NDSU

Healthy living most often is supported by a set of choices that individuals make regarding their daily physical activities and nutrition. Being healthy also is facilitated by the environment of support that families establish for physical activity, good nutrition and time together.

The union of “family time, fitness and fun” provides families with the opportunity to strengthen relationships, improve health and increase enjoyment of the benefits of healthy living. This article outlines 10 tips for improving family time and physical activity that can benefit family health and Improve the quality of personal relationships.

1. Turn off the “electronic competition” (TV, video games, etc.) and turn on the “outdoor competition” by engaging in outside physical activities together.

Families and children have limited time to spend together each day. Walking, riding bikes and playing games outside furnish both family time and opportunities for daily physical activity. Instead of letting family time get locked up by electronic gadgets, put some “outside time” on the daily family schedule (as weather cooperates) and then head outside for some old-fashioned physical interaction and fun.

2. Make sure that “fitness time” is also “family time” by going together to engage in physical activities at a local fitness center, community center or other location.

Family relationships tend to grow stronger through a simple equation: time + activity = better family relationships. Husbands and wives or other couples can walk briskly through the local neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes a day. A working mother and teenage daughter can catch a fitness class together in the early morning or early evening. Teenage siblings can go together to the fitness center to play basketball, lift weights or jog. Research indicates that motivation to engage in physical activity increases and is maintained as we engage in such activity with others. Encourage family members to become “fitness partners” and engage in physical activities together.

3. Focus on both “participation” and “competition” as opportunities for shared physical activity in a family setting.

Families have multiple pathways to physical activity together. Participation is most important, so finding ways for everyone to be engaged is important. If a father steps outside to go for a walk and a young child wants to go along in a stroller, then take time to facilitate such participation. In addition, competitive activity can provide an avenue for involvement in physical activities through shooting contests (basketball), races or games of tag.

4. Try a “multifitness” approach to family activity.

Engaging in multiple types of physical activity is possible if a family goes on a walk together, children ride bikes, and parents and children throw a ball or Frisbee back and forth along the way and stop to play on the swings or other play equipment at the park. Think of how you might encourage an approach that allows for multiple types of physical activity that can engage all family members along the way.

5. Take advantage of technology to encourage physical activity in a family setting.

Technology today can provide family members with opportunities to be actively engaged rather than passive observers. Children and adults genuinely may enjoy an evening spent doing a “dance fitness” game using the Wii or other technologies.

6. Support and encourage neighborhood games that facilitate physical activity of family members.

Playground baseball games at the park, hide and seek, “Kick the Can” and tag are examples of differing neighborhood games that provide children and family members with physical activity and fun. Adults should not be afraid to support, encourage and participate in such neighborhood games with children.

7. Join a local fitness center and participate in the opportunities for family interaction and physical activity.

In the 21st century, local fitness centers and other programs have diversified the opportunities for physical activity and family interaction. Family-friendly activities and schedules are common at YMCA programs, fitness centers, and local parks and recreation programs. Fitness machines, exercise and dance classes, sports leagues and activities ranging from rock climbing to racquetball often are available and affordable to interested families.

8. Set goals to overcome the epidemic of “physical activity deprivation” that is too common in family settings.

Families can and should discuss and set goals to maintain an active lifestyle where family time and physical activity is prioritized. Use family meetings to review the weekly family schedule, set goals for family time and then identify specific physical activities during the week that can be pursued.

9. Be attentive to differences by age of the child, ability level and temperament while engaging in physical activity.

Parents and other adults should be sensitive to the age, ability level and temperament of each family member while encouraging physical activity. For example, some teenage boys may wish to pursue team sports such as wrestling or football, while others will enjoy rock climbing, biking or other physical activities. Assist each family member to find avenues of physical activity that suit his or her interests and abilities.

10. Families that play together are more likely to stay together.

Active play is one of the best elements for family fitness and fun. Pursue physical activities that involve play and active effort, such as tag, basketball, swimming, hiking, walking, bike riding or any other meaningful physical activity.

These 10 tips provide a beginning point to consider ways in which families can improve their family fitness and fun together. As families include physical activity in their daily and weekly schedules, they can elevate the opportunities for meaningful family time, strengthen family relationships, and heighten the fun and enjoyment they receive as family members.

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