Get Your Kids Off The Couch

Some days, getting kids to exercise for the recommended 60 minutes is as easy as, well, a day at the beach. On a nice summer day your kids might be swimming and diving, playing catch at the park and coming home to a flashlight tag marathon that lasts well into evening.

But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s easy to turn to a movie marathon for the day’s activities.

Here’s the secret for getting your kids off the couch: kids don’t look at exercise as a chunk of time that’s separate from the rest of their day, as adults do.

Children want to move. If you go to a birthday party, they’re running everywhere. But they don’t run for 30 minutes. They run in short bursts with rest periods as needed.

Look for blocks of five, 10 or 15 minutes where you can squeeze in a bit of active play. Focus less on the aerobic stuff and more on fundamental movement skills. Research shows that children who develop these skills—kicking, throwing, balancing, jumping, running, hopping, skipping—tend to be more active in adolescence and adulthood.

Here are ideas to try, based on your child’s age.

For Toddlers and Preschoolers
Bring on the balloons. Kids will play all kinds of games with balloons. Challenge them not to let the balloon touch the floor or, using static electricity, see who can get their balloon to stick the highest on the wall by jumping.
Try the classics. Simon Says has all kinds of opportunities for exercise. Or try Copycat, where children have to mimic your movements. When they get older, upgrade to Magnet—they have to do the opposite of whatever you do.
Imitate an animal. Give kids animals to imitate and you’ll have them squirming like fish, hopping like frogs or scrambling like crabs.

For Elementary School Ages
Create an obstacle course. Use pillows or the cushions from the couch to make an obstacle course they can crawl through.
Host a dance party. Teach them the classics—chicken dance, anyone? Or just play music and move. Freeze dance is fun, too: Choose music your family likes, then pause the music at random intervals. When the music stops, everyone freezes in position, which helps build balance.
Don’t call them “chores.” Put on music the kids like and see who can put their clothes or toys away the fastest. Or create a scavenger hunt—make a list of seven out-of-place items they have to find, show you and put away.

For Teenagers
Challenge them. It’s kids vs. adults. Who can do the most pushups, situps or jumping jacks in one minute?
Create a play. Act out a scene from a favorite movie or book. Love the Harry Potter or Hunger Games stories? Bonus points for alternative endings.
Make chores active. Cleaning out a section of the basement or garage can be a workout. Join them, and use the chore time as an opportunity to teach correct lifting techniques.

For Kids – and Adults – of All Ages
Shop inefficiently. If you’re getting errands done, work in as much walking as possible. Zigzag between stores or departments. Skip the cart and see how much you can carry. At an indoor mall, you will be protected from the weather and still get in a bit of exercise—download a pedometer app to your smartphone to see how much.
Try exergaming with active video games. Choose more intense activities such as dancing and boxing over less-active bowling and tennis.
Take a “fitness five.” Build five-minute breaks into your family’s schedule, in any weather. Take five minutes before or after school, after dinner or as a homework break for a mini-workout as a family.
Splurge on exercise. Instead of spending a rainy day at the movies, visit an indoor pool or water park, a rock climbing gym, a trampoline park, a skating rink, an indoor play place or a bowling alley. And don’t sit on the sidelines—join your kids in the fun!
Sign up for sports. If you live in an area prone to long hot summers or brutal winters, look for an activity your child enjoys. Dance, gymnastics, martial arts, basketball, swim team or indoor soccer can provide regular exercise opportunities in any weather.
What weather? No one is suggesting you head out in a blizzard or a hurricane, but why not jump in the puddles of a spring shower, look for animal tracks in the snow after a storm has passed, or head out for an early hike before the heat of the day?

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