9 Tips to Get Your Kids to Exercise
Even as an adult, getting motivated to get up and moving can be tough! Add in distractions from video games, TV shows, and TikTok, and you may feel like you don’t have a chance of getting your kids off the couch.
The key to getting your kid moving — much like any task your kid might not want to do — is to find fun ways to sneak it into your day. (We’ve got tons of ideas below!)
Helping your kids build an active lifestyle will benefit them throughout their lives. “Teaching your kids healthy habits early on is huge,” says Openfit Trainer Joey Thurman, father to an energetic 3-year-old. “You need to set that stage to set them up for later on in life.”
Just be mindful that you’re promoting exercise as a way to stay healthy, rather than a means to looking a certain way.
“We teach him about being strong, rather than looking good,” Thurman says. He encourages his kid to eat healthfully and stay active “to be strong and healthy, so you can run around and have energy,” he adds. “It’s never about how you look — it’s about how you feel.”
Read on for playful ways to get your kids on their feet.
1. Set Up an Obstacle Course
“My wife bought some little obstacle course elements for him out in the yard, and we’ll do that as a family,” Joey says. An obstacle course is a classic way to get kids moving, especially if you add an element of fun competition. Challenge them to beat their own best times — or pit them against each other!
Both big and little kids can help set up the course, and obstacles can be adjusted to accommodate their ages.
This is also a perfect activity for a rainy day, as you can easily set up a course inside — crawl under chairs, hop on one foot around the coffee table, or sprint up and down the stairs.
Bonus: Add in some academic “obstacles,” like solving a math problem, completing a tangram, or spelling a difficult word.
2. Use Screens to Your Advantage
Social media can definitely be a distraction, but don’t swear off screens altogether — those TikTok dance challenges are actually a great way to get kids moving! Set up a family challenge to learn one new dance a week, and watch your videos later to see how much you’ve improved.
Or make a deal with the kids — to earn 15 minutes of screen time, they have to do 30 squats or run a lap around the house.
3. Don’t Shy Away From Strength Training
Strength training can help kids learn proper form and improve performance in sports and other activities. And contrary to the old myth, it won’t stunt their growth.
Aim for bodyweight exercises with younger kids. “For most kids, bodyweight exercises will be enough until they learn proper movement and body control,” says TJ Mentus, a certified personal trainer and contributor for Garage Gym Reviews.”When they are able to show competence in those movement patterns, then adding resistance in the form of weights and bands will be fine.”
4. Get the Whole Family Involved
You’re a role model for your kids, so make sure you’re setting a good example of taking care of yourself and nourishing your body.
That means making exercise a regular part of family time — and joining in wherever you can. Try learning a new sport together, taking a daily walk after dinner, or playing an active video game before family movie night.
When the whole family gets their bodies moving, everyone benefits. “I love being the parent who can run and chase the child, and not just sit on the couch and watch them running around,” Thurman says. “It’s pretty great.”
5. Head Outdoors
Whether you tackle a nearby hiking trail, run some errands on foot, or just walk around the neighborhood, spending time outdoors will give everyone some fresh air, vitamin D, and a change of scenery.
Add in a little encouragement with a few games. Do a scavenger hunt, bring along some field guides, or entice the group with whatever you’ll find at the end — an alpine lake, the library, a playground, a fun store, or just a tasty post-hike snack.
Or download the free Geocaching app, which is basically a real-world, outdoor treasure hunt — which can entice even the most reluctant kids to go exploring.
6. Head to an Adventure Zone
Have you ever spent hours jumping around in a bounce house, bouncing between trampolines, or sprinting to avoid lasers? It’s a blast — and a good workout! Plan a monthly trip to one of these adventures zones and join in on the fun.
7. Give Active Gifts
When you’re shopping for birthdays and holidays, look for active toys like hula hoops, soccer balls, jump ropes, Skip-Its, and Velcro ball paddles. For older kids, get some roller blades, a pogo stick, a skateboard, or a scooter.
Or give them a kid-friendly activity tracker. Not only will it help them get excited about reaching their activity goals, but it’s also a fun way to get younger kids interested in learning numbers and solving simple math problems — like how many steps they need to meet their goal (or outpace their sibling).
8. Try a Sport
Ask your kids if there’s a sport they’d like to try, and consider signing them up with a friend or sibling so they feel more comfortable. It’ll get them moving and they might cultivate a lifelong love of a new activity along the way.
You don’t need to commit to an intense training schedule just yet — you can borrow or rent gear, and sign-up for short camps or a few classes before committing to an entire season.
And don’t overlook some of the less mainstream sports, like water polo, rock climbing, roller derby, or disc golf.
9. Encourage Creative Play
Think about how much movement is involved in so many popular games — like running around the house during Hide and Seek, crawling through a pillow fort, having a dance party in the living room, or playing tag in the yard. Even searching for Pokemon is just a walk in disguise!
Most creative games involve some form of exercise, so encourage that to help them form healthy habits and make movement a second-nature part of their lifestyle.
“For children, the most important part is to keep them moving and enjoying the activity as much as possible,” Mentus says. “If that enjoyment is not first cultivated, then most likely they will stop exercising when there is no one to make them do it anymore.”