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If you're a mom or dad who tries to stay fit, you know that the typical exercise routines can be boringly repetitive and limited in their effects. For a child, it can be even worse.

In Hong Kong, school recess times are short, there is little access to nature and free play, proper nutrition is a challenge, and what free time is available is taken up with portable electronic devices.

On the other hand, researchers from the University of Basel show that the fitter your children, the more capable they are of dealing with the pressures of school life.

So as parents how do you balance this information?

Get Fit Together

Author and “play expert” Frank Forencich looked at the links between exercise and healthy families.

He found that when you work out in a group—and especially as a family—your relationships improve, along with your movement and mood.

Young kids playing football

There are many benefits to exercising in a group

The science is also clear that when your family exercises as a unit, communication is better and the family environment is generally healthier. 

It’s also great for the brain. 

“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says Dr. John Ratey, an internationally recognized expert in neuropsychiatry and author of Spark and Go Wild.

Moms of young children exercise less as they lack time, money and energy, and are often prioritizing their offspring first, a report in journal Life Sciences reveals. 

Although you may feel you may lack the time, money and energy to work out, you can be certain you will be promoting your family’s overall health as well as starting them on the road to lifelong fitness. 

Turning a lazy Sunday into a fun family day is one way to get everyone up, outside and enjoying themselves.

Here are seven non-traditional family fitness ideas to help you on your way (and they’re all free!):

1. Frisbee

Playing frisbee (e.g. Frisbee Tag or Ultimate Frisbee) is not only fun, it provides all the proven benefits of interval training.

You get turning, pivoting, running, jumping, hand-eye coordination, increased agility, an improved cardiovascular system and friendly competition—all for the low cost of a small plastic disc.

2. Jump Rope

Jump ropes are inexpensive and you can even make them from a clothesline. 

This activity will build hand-eye coordination, aerobic fitness, and condition everyone’s shoulders and legs. Parents and kids should be able to swap a few tricks between them! 

3. Circuit Training

This may sound like it’s just for adults, but it’s ideal for little people who have short attention spans.

Your family can organize a series of short 30-second exercises using just your bodies: such as push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, bear crawls, hopping and sprints.

You could also add in simple kid-friendly implements like jump ropes, hula hoops, or balls for throwing. 

Music works wonders here for setting the pace and keeping motivation high.

Girl playing with a hula hoop

Start thinking outside the box with fitness ideas for your family

4. Obstacle Course

Make nature your family’s obstacle course. Hills, trees, bushes, park benches, bike stands, chairs—you can navigate all of this outdoor furniture in a playful way. 

Too easy? Do it on all-fours.

5. Animal Challenge

How many animals can you mimic? You can start out with monkeys, bears, frogs and alligators. 

Copying the movements these animals make will improve your whole-body strength and flexibility, as well as challenge everyone’s creativity.

6. Charity Walk/Run

In the holidays, Hong Kong has plenty of organized charity events and fun walks/runs. This will teach your kids the importance of charity and teamwork while they're getting fitter at the same time. 

Up the challenge by adding a little weight to some backpacks.

7. Creative Roughhousing

Formally referred to as good old-fashioned horseplay, creative roughhousing is active, physical play that kids (and big kids) just love. 

The word might scare some people, but The Art of Roughhousing is a great read for reassuring parents of the its benefits.

In addition to building fitness, roughhousing improves brain function, impulse control and emotional intelligence. It also reinforces the feeling of joy and empathy. 

Plus, self-control, body awareness, confidence, and the constructive use of competitive energy all come into play.

 

Keeping fit is not just a personal goal—it can work for the whole family. 

Done regularly, it will not only make your body stronger, it will help you move better, improve your creativity, and help you manage stress.

And what family wouldn’t benefit from this?

Do you have any other fun family activities to recommend? Comment below or share your photos on social media using #JuneFamilies.