family playing soccer in backyard

Every four years, the Olympic Games take the world's breath away. The key values at the heart of the Olympics - athleticism, determination, teamwork and international cooperation - touch people around the globe. Bring the Olympic spirit into your family and get kids excited about sports, exercise and staying fit by creating your own Olympic Games in the local park. It's the perfect opportunity for parents to use the Olympics as a stepping-stone to interest kids in improving their health.

Physical Activity Guidelines
Your kids may be active, but are they getting the necessary amount of movement each day to remain healthy throughout their lives? Children between the ages of 5 and 12 should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day in 15-minute increments, most days of the week. Keep in mind, this is the bare minimum - it's better if your child's activity level actually exceeds the amount stated.

Many children will meet this minimum requirement through recess and physical education classes at school, as well as through extra-curricular sports. You can help make sure your kids meet or exceed the recommended physical activity limits by encouraging them to take an interest in sports and exercise. Consider the fun and excitement of holding your very own Olympic Games in your local park or community park.

Set the Stage with Olympic Themes
Get kids excited about the Olympic Games through some internationally inspired artwork that can serve as decorations and awards during your own Games in the local park. This is a great opportunity to explore the cultural history of participant countries by drawing colorful flags to denote national teams. Ask younger children to paint or draw gold, silver, and bronze ribbons or medals for each event. Family fitness Olympic-like events can include:

  • Frisbee toss
  • Badminton
  • Sprinting dashes
  • Potato sack and three-legged races
  • Ring or beanbag toss
  • Hula-hooping or jump-roping
  • Basketball

Enjoy the activities of your Games with your own family, and encourage your child to invite friends to make the competition even more fun. When kids are running around and smiling, they may not even notice they're exercising!

Olympic Variety
The Olympics wouldn't be as exhilarating if there were only one sport. Variety is the spice of life, and that's true when it comes to getting your children interested in fitness. Some children excel at certain sports, while other kids aren't very athletic and might need a gentle push to go outside and exercise.

When planning your Games, be sure to include a number of activities that everyone attending can enjoy. Don't be afraid to add in a few silly games to give less athletic kids a chance to shine - everyone enjoys a friendly potato sack race. At the same time, sporty children will be more engaged in your Games if you add an element of realism. You can hold a true 100-meter dash, or consider referring to your Frisbee as a "discus" for such children.

Staying Motivated After the Games
As much as we love them, the Olympic Games don't last forever. Keep your kids motivated to stay active after your Games end by continuing to plan family fitness time.

Focus on choosing activities that your whole family can enjoy, and rotate what you do to keep everyone engaged. For example, schedule a family game of badminton one week, and a group yoga activity the next week. Make a trip to the neighborhood pool for some swim time if you notice one child gravitates more toward individual activities rather than team sports. Family fitness doesn't need to be competitive, but can encompass a wide variety of ways to elevate your heart rate and tone muscles.

Whether it's an Olympic year or not, remember that family fitness is about more than staying healthy - it's about enjoying each other's company and having fun. Kids who find fun in fitness are far more likely to continue to exercise. Create an environment where your children have choices and friendly competition, and you'll see their smiles grow.