12. Plan a garden together. As you dig holes, plant seeds, and pull weeds, you’ll build your child’s and your upper body strength. As an added bonus, research shows children are more likely to eat the vegetables they help grow, which means your gardening forays will help your child follow a more nutritious diet.
13. Take a hike at least twice a month. Grab a backpack, plenty of water (everyone should drink 8 ounces every half-hour), and a light lunch and head to a local trail for a hiking expedition. Wear hiking boots for rocky terrain or sneakers for smoother trails, and pack sunscreen and insect repellent. To make this more fun for kids, make it about something else, such as looking for a particular animal or bird, climbing to see a lake or pond, or seeing how many rocks you can scamper over without touching the ground. Kids like hiking much better when they don’t realize it’s about hiking! Bring a picnic, of course; this is a great opportunity to share a delicious but healthful meal and cultivate good family eating habits.
14. Dance during commercial breaks. Make it a family rule that whenever you watch television, you have to stand up and dance around during the commercials. This goes for everyone! Whoever gets caught sitting on the couch during a commercial break must perform his or her least-liked household chore for one week.
15. Sign up for a race. Check your local paper for a list of 5K and 10K walk/run events in your area. Many of these events also raise money for charity, which can inspire your children to train for the event. “You’ll not only contribute to your family’s health, but also to research to help find cures for many diseases,” says Dr. Sothern. Don’t worry about finishing; the motivation involved in training for it is enough on its own.
16. Play volleyball once a week in warm weather. Set up a net, get a ball, and invite other neighborhood children and their parents over for a game. You can get in even more fitness if you add these rules:
1. When the opposing team scores a point, the receiving team must do 10 calisthenic moves, such as jumping jacks, push-ups, or crunches.
2. Whoever is responsible for fumbling a shot must walk, dance, skip, or jog around the court.
17. Try a family-friendly game of flag football. Purchase table napkins in two colors. Divide your family into two teams and ask everyone to tuck one of the colored napkins into his waistband. When an opposing team member pulls a napkin from the ball carrier’s waistband and places it on the ground, the play has ended. Allow only 20 seconds to prepare for kickoff and 10 seconds after a down. Switch positions every 15 minutes to keep the entire family active. Not only will you get in some family fitness time, but you’ll also be teaching your children valuable lessons about practice, perseverance, cooperation, and teamwork.
18. Dance, dance, dance. Put on your favorite music and dance with your children. Teach your children dance moves from your generation and have them show you moves from theirs (or make up moves for you to try). Vigorous dancing burns just as many calories as brisk walking or playing basketball. And kids love it — particularly when the grown-ups pick them up and swing them around every now and then. And don’t just leave dancing to chance, or when you happen to be in the mood — make sure to have one or two family dance sessions a week. Perhaps a Friday night dance can become family tradition. Let everyone choose some of the music, play it in turns, and shake that thang!
19. Walk your children to and from school. By walking with them, you not only get peace of mind that they’re safe, but you also get to hear about their upcoming day on the way there, and how their day went on the way home.
20. Make like an animal. If you have young children ages 3-8, organize an animal race. Let everyone in the family pick an animal, such as a snake, monkey, or crab. Then race across the room as you imitate how that animal might move. For example, if you choose a monkey, you must race using your hands and feet, but not your knees or torso. If you are imitating a snake, you must slither across the room. Add some proper animal noises for real fun. You’ll be out of breath before you know it.
21. Walk around the world. Place a map of the country, state, or world somewhere prominently in your home. Work with your children to arrive at a walking destination. Then, based on your daily family walks, plot your progress on the map using thumbtacks. There are about 2,000 steps in a mile, so you can plot your progress by using a pedometer. To add some incentive, promise to actually take a vacation to your walking destination once you complete the number of steps to
22. Start a ball fight. A large, air-filled stability ball can provide you and your children with plenty of fun, laughter, and a great workout, says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., author of Bounce Your Body Beautiful. Applegate suggests the following ball exercises.
1. Stand facing your child with the ball between you. You should both grasp the ball about chest level. This may mean you need to get on your knees depending on the height of your child. Then fight over the ball, rotating it from side to side for 15-20 seconds at a time.
2.Stand holding the ball at chest level with your arms extended. Ask your child to try to knock the ball out of your hands by tapping different parts of it from different directions. To really up the ante, try it with your eyes closed.
23. Toss a ball or a Frisbee. It seems more like relaxation than structured exercise, but you’ll get your heart rate up every time you have to run for an errant ball or Frisbee. Plus, you’ll both improve your hand-eye coordination.
24. Act like a child. Remember duck-duck-goose, hopscotch, and red-light-green-light-one-two-three? You probably thought of these games as just that, games. But they also require movement and count as exercise. Teach them to your kids and play along. As you laugh, you’ll burn extra calories. Don’t forget Simon says!
25. Hold a night of active family games every week. Organize a night of matchups of the three-legged race, wheelbarrow races, and others and challenge another family from the neighborhood to a friendly competition.
26. Place small children on the floor at least once a day — and let them crawl, move, and toddle. Children are inherently active when given the opportunity to move, says Dr. Sothern. Yet we often confine children and prevent the very exercise they need. For example, have you ever placed your baby in a swing or portable car seat to give yourself some free time? Ever settled your children in front of the VCR, DVD player, or television when you needed a break? Instead of automatically finding a stationary activity for your children when you need your own personal time-out, encourage more activity. For toddlers and crawlers, find a safe space on the floor where you can plop them and let them move. Have other children play in the sandbox, run through the backyard, or climb your backyard tree as you do your own thing nearby.
27. Waltz with your baby. If your baby is crying for attention, don’t just stick a pacifier in her mouth or take her for a drive. Instead, take her in your arms and waltz around the room. The more exaggerated and smooth your movements, the better. The waltzing will give your baby new sights to focus on, soothing the crying. You’ll burn extra calories and tone the muscles in your arms by holding her.