14 Ways to Get Kids Exercising -- and Off the Couch

Here are 14 ideas to help your family make exercising a routine family activity that's fun, motivating and healthy.
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If one parent is obese, there's a 50 percent chance that their children will also be obese, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. But when exercise is a regular part of the family's activities, everyone wins.

A few things to keep in mind when it comes to motivating kids. First, most young kids prefer "activities" to conventional exercise -- for example, they're more likely to take a bike ride than jog around a track. Second, older kids are more apt to do fitness activities with their parents if their friends come along. And third, many kids are motivated by goals, targets, competition and progress-tracking.

Pay attention to how your child responds to different activities and scenarios, and then find the best ways to make fitness easy and natural for him or her to enjoy.

Here are 14 ideas to help your family make exercising a routine family activity that's fun, motivating and healthy.

Walk the dog. Use the family dog as a motivator. Don't just open the back door and let him out. Find a great walking trail near your house and take Rover for a scenic family stroll. He probably needs exercise too!

Time it right. Schedule workouts for a time that has the highest probability that everyone will actually do them. After dinner, for example, is a great time for a family walk or a game of croquet, because you're all together. After school is also a good time for kids, who've been sitting all day and need to burn off some of that pent-up energy.

Mix it up. Adults often forget that play is exercise. If you take a walk one day, go bowling the next. Work, such as gardening or stacking wood, is also exercise. Don't limit your idea of exercise to just going to the gym. Anything that gets your family moving together counts.

Invite their friends. It's harder for kids to beg off if one of their friends is invited to join your family for a hike. You can even invite their whole family!

Track everyone's progress. Mark the calendar every time you do an activity and keep track of everyone's progress. It's very motivating to see how often everyone is exercising. If your kid responds to competition, keep a chart of games won, best times, miles cycled, and so on. Tracking is a good way to make your family's new fitness-oriented behaviors stick.

Be spontaneous. Exercise with kids whenever the opportunity arises. For example, if you're standing in a long line, do jumping jacks. Turn the trip from the car to the house into a race. Do pushups during TV commercials. Install a basketball hoop on your garage and play a game of H.O.R.S.E. before you bring the groceries in.

Be in nature. Make it a habit to get the family outside as often as possible. An easy way to do this is to swap an indoor workout session with an outdoor one. Playing a backyard game or walking around the block delivers a motivational twofer. Not only will the exercise make everyone feel better, but fresh air and sunshine are mood boosters as well. Find winter activities that get them outdoors, such as skiing, sledding, or snowshoeing.

Give me five. If getting the kids to commit to exercising is difficult, tell them you're only going to do it for five minutes -- long enough to at least break a small sweat. Doing a five-minute bike ride or a five-minute jog is easy for anyone. Most likely, it will turn into ten.

Do it for a cause. If you're a family of couch potatoes, sometimes a good cause can get you motivated. Research which local organizations are hosting fundraising walks -- and then get your friends and relatives to sponsor your family. If you can't find one, organize your own walk for a cause such as your kid's PTA or Little League.

Schedule it. Kids and adults alike respond well to a structured schedule. Set a time and place for your family activity and write it on the family calendar. Ask everyone to commit to your fitness appointment. If you've scheduled a bike ride but the weather is uncooperative, then turn on the Wii and play tennis indoors or blast some music and have a dance competition.

Let them pick. Ask your kids to take charge of the family exercise schedule for a week -- and promise that you'll do whatever they choose. You'll probably be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with. You can also rotate weekly -- every family member gets to be the chooser for a week.

Put it in writing. Write a three-month contract with family members and have everyone sign it. If weight loss is a goal, write down a reasonable goal (no more than 6 pounds a month). Sign it and keep it in a place where all family members can see it.

Start small. We lose motivation when we try to do too much too soon; it's unsustainable. Running 5K may be a goal that's out of reach for your family, but walking one mile isn't. What's most important for motivation is accomplishing and completing a task on a consistent basis, not the size of the task itself.

Think outside the box. Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't go swimming. Find a nearby hotel chain and ask how much an hour of indoor pool costs. Or do an activity you've never done -- such as learning to rock climb at a climbing gym or riding horses. Parents vs. kids competitions are always a hit. So are "old-fashioned" games like Twister, jump rope and kick the can.

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