By Eliza Flynn, The Warrior Method
Families that move together are stronger together. Finding ways to improve your fitness as a family has a whole host of benefits, including deepening relationships, improving communications, building good habits, and encouraging teamwork. There’s even evidence to suggest that children who do lots of exercise enjoy long-lasting health benefits, including better bone health and cognitive function.
Most importantly, what you do has to be fun. Even if you’re not an exercise enthusiast, it’s hard to resist the opportunity to laugh and smile together. And for children, the association with moving and enjoyment will stay with them when they’re older and encourage them to exercise independently.
The following suggestions will help you get moving more as a family…
Joe Wicks made family workouts cool during the summer of 2020, with his Kids Workouts, which are short, five-minute sessions for children from three years, and PE with Joe which are longer and ideal for those aged six up. Don’t be fooled though – even though they’re quite short, they’re not easy! For yogis, Cosmic Kids offers 10 to 50-minute sessions in the form of a story, which are fun for both kids and adults. Andy’s Wild Workouts are short but engaging and a favourite for pre-school wildlife enthusiasts. Headband? Check!
There are also workouts you can find which involve your child too, such as this 10-minute Parent & Child Chaos Workout. As the name suggests, prepare for chaos and anything more is a win!
Bike and run
As soon as your child is confident on a bike or scooter, they can join you on your run! Fill up a running rucksack with water and snacks and head out together to see how far you can get. Children can be surprisingly fast on two wheels, but also tire quickly, so expect more sprints, rather than long-distances the younger they are. A word of advice: stick to routes near home to start with – there’s nothing more tiring than having to carry a tired child and their bike home!
There’s nothing more wholesome than going on a family walk. If you have a car or access to transport, explore surrounding forests and woods. Prepare well with a selection of snacks and plenty of water and appropriate footwear and clothes. As you walk, enjoy exploring and be curious about your environment. If you have small children, bring a sling or hiking carrier for when they get tired. You can also try shinrin yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing; during your walk, admire your surroundings, breathe deeply, listen, slow down, and focus on what you can see, hear, feel, and smell.
If you live in a big city, why not try a sightseeing walk – take in the various sights and stop on the way for plenty of babycinos and snacks.
Choose a couple of exercises, throw on a great playlist (the word ‘great’ is debatable – but it is possible to work out to the likes of Baby Shark and the PJ Mask theme tune) and keep your workout short. Children love to copy what you do and often have better technique than adults. Exercises such as squats, planks, burpees, and lunges work well. If you’re using weights, keep them light and be sure to teach your children that they can be dangerous. Depending on the age of your child and your strength levels, you can also carry them on your back or shoulders for weighted squats which they’ll love.
To mix things up, let your child choose the exercises (they can be very inventive!) or lead the workout.
Integrate movement into your everyday life
Who says fitness has to be done at a certain time, wearing certain clothes? When we think of how we used to live versus now, our ancestors would be shocked that we are so sedentary that we need to add in set times to move. Instead, find opportunities to integrate different types of movement wherever you go, wherever you are. It’ll help you stay curious and creative and get you all moving in ways you wouldn’t normally. Get everyone to walk along walls or only on the cracks in the pavement, hang off branches, jump off tree stumps, run to each tree, and hop on leaves.
Everyone loves obstacle courses; there’s a reason why the likes of Total Wipeout, Ninja Warrior and Tough Mudder have so much appeal – they provide the chance to be a child again.
It’s incredibly easy to make up your own obstacle course, both indoors and outdoors. At home, make a route which involves crawling under chairs, sliding downstairs, bear-crawling around rugs, forward rolling over beds, jumping off sofas, and throwing cushions into boxes (obviously, taking the necessary precautions to create the safest environment possible and keeping a close watch). The only thing holding you back is your imagination. Yes – it’s time to get your house messy!
If you’d rather keep your house in one piece, take your obstacle course outside. A small investment in a set of cones, hula hoops or bean bags can help. Use walls to balance along, trees to run around, cracks in pavements to follow, cones to zig-zag around, hula hoops to roll or clamber through, bean bags to balance on your head or throw… take a look at what you’ve got around you and let your imagination run wild!
Hold time trials and make sure you get involved, too.
All you need for this is a stretch of concrete or tarmac and chalks. Use the chalks to make a path to follow, incorporating loops, zig-zags, spirals, and actions such as jumping, hopping, skipping, spinning, and running backwards. This can be a fantastic way to incorporate spelling and numeracy skills, too.
The key to improving your fitness as a family is to explore different options together and to be consistent. Regular exercise will soon develop into a habit, and the earlier you can instil healthy habits, the more likely your children will continue these as they get older.
And don’t forget, fitness is just part of a healthy lifestyle; what you eat, and even your sleep, plays a big role, too.
Eliza Flynn is a pre and postnatal personal trainer and online coach, as well as a mum to two small but feral boys. She believes that making movement fun is key to moving well in the future. Contact her to find out about sessions and her online workouts: www.thewarriormethod.co.uk