It’s probably no surprise to anyone that kids need exercise.
It’s also not surprising — largely thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign — that a lot of kids could use more of it. As the White House reported, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly 1 in 3 children in America are overweight or obese.”
But even children who maintain healthy weights still need exercise. Not just for physical health but also for mental and emotional health. According to Stand Up Kids, the average American student sits 4.5 hours per day in school. Add that to the average 3.5 hours of daily screen time of some kind outside of school and it’s clear why a little more movement could benefit children’s current and future health.
Keep in mind that workouts don’t have to feel like workouts. The main idea is to have fun, so that kids will want to keep doing them. Which means that anything that’s active and that your kids enjoy (and isn’t dangerous, obviously) should be encouraged!
Yoga is a wonderful way to get kids of all ages to exercise. From kids’ yoga, which incorporates imagination, to teen yoga, which incorporates challenging poses to give them something to build up to, there is some type of yoga out there to please most kids. And yoga is shown to improve focus, emotional health, mindfulness, and physical health. There are many benefits to encouraging it as a workout.
If you’ve practiced yoga yourself, consider showing some poses to your kids and letting them build off of those. There are also great kids-focused DVDs and other materials out there.
Equipment needed: A mat is optimal but not needed. DVDs, books, and flash cards can also be helpful for new practitioners.
Dance of any kind is a wonderful cardio workout. It’s one thing almost all kids love and all it requires is a little music. Make your own music if you’re in the mood for it! Some kids can be a little self-conscious dancing, but at home, with some privacy, they may still let go.
Pick some songs, turn up the volume, and start a family dance party. Or organize a game of freeze dance, having the kids freeze in a pose of some kind when you turn off the music, until you turn it back on again. Or ask them to choreograph a dance and put on a performance for the family later.
Equipment needed: Music and some way to play it. If kids really show an interest and want to learn a certain kind of dance, you can always look into instructive DVDs.
You don’t need a whole team to play soccer! It can even work with just two people. All you need is a designated playing area and two goals for each person to defend. This can be in a backyard, garage, rec room, or play area.
I’ve seen kids play one-on-one soccer in a small rec room for hours. If you can find an appropriate space and get a ball to match its conditions, it’s game on!
Equipment needed: A ball of some kind. Depending on your space, this could be an actual soccer ball, or a smaller, softer ball. The small, soft balls are most appropriate for indoor games.
Zumba is a lot of fun and can be a really hard workout for people of all ages. For that reason, this will require a purchase of some kind. You can find age-appropriate Zumba classes on DVD or online. Beyond a DVD or download, you just need a little space for them to move around in, and you’ve got a fantastic at-home workout.
Equipment needed: Age-appropriate DVD or download of Zumba routines.
This sounds much more complicated than it is, and there are great videos you can use as a guide. Giving someone an airplane is one of the most basic poses in AcroYoga and provides a good foundation for a lot of other poses. It can also be a great workout to do with three or more family members: one base, one flyer, and one spotter.
Encourage kids to be a base for other family members even if they don’t feel strong enough. They — and maybe you! — will be surprised at how strong their legs are and how much they can support others.
Equipment needed: Nothing is needed for this except for some space and some research. Go online and watch some videos about AcroYoga to make sure you stay safe while practicing. Even better, take an AcroYoga class and ask the instructor for ideas for practicing with kids.
6. Scavenger Hunt
This takes some planning on at least one caregiver’s part, but there are only three main things to keep in mind. The clues can be as simple as they need to be (for example, “Go look in the atlas in the living room on page 110”). But they should:
- make the kids go through the house as much as possible, as that’ll get them the most exercise
- have a fun “reward” at the end that isn’t just beating someone else, so it’s not competitive but a group activity that they work toward together
- include questions of other at-home family members, so you engage them as well
Equipment needed: Prewritten clues hidden around the house and family members participating who are aware of their roles.
An endless number of games are played in houses every day. Most caregivers probably already have at least a handful at the ready, either from their own childhoods or from their children teaching them.
This includes so many things that will give your kids a workout without them having any idea they are working out. Some ideas include:
- red rover
- balloon games (don’t let it touch the floor!)
- avoiding the hot lava (jumping from floor cushion to cushion to avoid stepping on the carpet)
- bubble wrap party (lay bubble wrap on the floor and jump on it, popping all the bubbles)
- bubble popping (blow bubbles or use a bubble-making machine and try to pop as many as you can before they hit the ground or pop on their own)
As long as you’re having fun and moving around, do it, encourage it, and enjoy it with them!
Equipment needed: Depends on the game, but many only need things typically already in a house with kids.
The benefits of exercise for kids aren’t just physical. Regular physical activity can transform the brain and improve the ability to remember and think.
It doesn’t take much to get kids up and moving. Often all they need is an idea, some encouragement, and the promise of fun. With all of the above, consider joining in and asking your child to teach you something new. This will empower them and give them more confidence. And don’t forget, being a fit role model is the easiest way to convince kids to get moving.