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Putting the fun into family fitness

Putting the fun into family - main

Change4Life recommends 60 active minutes a day for every child but, as many parents know, persuading kids to exercise can be a challenge. Personal trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read has some fun games to get youngsters moving.

While the main impetus behind Change4Life is the urgent need to tackle obesity, being active is essential to the wellbeing of all children, not just those who are overweight. Inactive adults are at increased risk of developing serious health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure – and many of them will have developed their sedentary lifestyles in childhood.

If parents and older siblings lead a sedentary lifestyle, younger children are likely to emulate this behaviour, so it’s important to set a good example and let our children see us taking plenty of exercise ourselves.

With PE lessons often totalling two hours a week or less, parents can’t rely on schools to ensure that children get their recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day; so much of the responsibility for ensuring children keep active will rest with the family.

To help children be active from an early age, Change4Life recommends that parents try to incorporate regular opportunities to exercise – such as walks, sports and active games – into day-to-day family life.

The campaign’s ‘healthy behaviours’ also include setting a daily limit of, say, two hours on the amount of time a child is allowed to sit still; that way, they don’t get into the habit of watching TV or playing video games for hours on end.

Fitness that's effective, affordable and fun

According to Lucy, the key to getting children up and about is to make exercise a stimulating and enjoyable experience, not a chore they come to resent. If they don’t enjoy what they’re doing, they’re unlikely to stick with it for long – however much we tell them it’s good for them!

“To motivate kids to do more regular physical activity, we need a solution that’s effective, affordable and, most importantly, fun,” says Lucy. She stresses that the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day doesn’t have to be done all in one go; so you could spend half-an-hour playing a game with the kids in the garden, then later all go for a brisk walk to the park or shops, for example.

To keep the family motivated, Lucy suggests making a weekly activity chart and giving everyone stickers to put on the chart each time they do some form of physical activity, such as walking to school or weeding the garden. Whoever has the most stickers at the end of the week gets to choose the family activity for the weekend, like swimming at the local pool or cycling in the park.

Five fun family fitness games

Lucy has selected five fitness games that meet her three essential criteria: they’re effective, as they get the child moving and working all areas of fitness, balance and strength; they’re affordable, as no equipment, gym fees or other costs are involved; and they’re fun – the idea behind all the games is that children are enjoying themselves so the physical activity never feels like a chore.

Balloon game. This simple game gets youngsters running around inside on rainy days. Simply blow up several balloons and the kids have to run around the room batting them up to stop them landing on the floor. It can be played by one or more child and can also be played in the garden – as long as it’s not too windy!
Mini obstacle course. This improves children’s motor skills, balance, co-ordination, stamina and strength. The obstacle course can be timed from start to finish to get kids rushing about. It can be adapted and extended in any number of ways, indoors and out, to suit children of different ages. Here’s one idea for a simple-to-assemble indoor course:
Run in between plastic bottles.
Crawl under a chair.
Jump over several cushions.
Jump onto pieces of paper on floor.
Run around chair.
Then hop back to the start.
Treasure hunt. Hide several objects around the house which the kids have to find within a set time limit – this makes it more challenging and gets them rushing around. The game can be played by one or more child, either inside or in the garden on fine days.
Dancing. A great way to increase physical activity is by getting kids to dance. It can be any form of dance, from disco to street dancing, and will help children develop balance and rhythm, as well as improving fitness.
Play ball. This is a quick and easy way of improving fitness and having fun at the same time. Simply put up a makeshift goal post in the garden and get youngsters kicking the ball around. Even better, join in yourself!

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