9 ways to get your family active (that you definitely haven’t tried)

    Family getting active with skateboarding
    Published: 31 May 2022. Written by: Cheryl Freedman.

    Whether you’re looking to fill holiday days or weekends, here is our pick of new activities to keep your family active and entertained through the half term holiday.

    Half-term is almost here again meaning that, once more, parents across the land will be desperately figuring out how to keep their children off screens and avoid the dreaded phrase ‘I’m bored!’

    However, rather than simply ticking off the days, see this time as an opportunity to discover some new ways to keep fit as a family (especially if your usual hikes and bike rides have lost their shine post-lockdown).

    Studies show that families who exercise together have stronger bonds, and are mentally and physically fitter. Plus, research indicates that children who stay active grow into healthier adults. 

    ‘As a child, the more you see your parents exercising, the more likely you are to see it as part of your life and carry on as you get older,’ says Jonny Kibble, PT and Head of Physical Activity at Vitality. ‘And the more activities you can try with kids at an early age, the more likely they’ll find something they love.’

    It isn’t just about fitness, though. At the risk of sounding cheesy, trying a fun activity together – such as skateboarding or climbing – is a way to ‘make memories’ and notch up some quality family time. (These half-terms might feel endless now, but we promise you’ll miss them when they’re gone…)

    So why not give one of the following ideas a go? It might kindle a new passion for you and your kids.

    The activity: Climbing 

    There are 400-plus indoor climbing centres around the UK and most offer sessions 

    for children as well as adults. Indoor bouldering, in particular, is great for kids: this simpler, less daunting form of climbing involves scaling shorter walls (typically, no more than 4m high) with crash mats at the bottom, and no harnesses required. Kids can try it from as young as 4 or 5. Find your local centre at the British Mountaineering Council’s Climbing Wall Finder.

    While kids will mainly be focused on the adrenalin thrills, there are plenty of fitness wins for mums and dads. ‘Climbing is good for coordination and a great workout for the upper body, including your wrists, biceps and back,’ says Kibble. It’s also a good mental challenge. ‘There’s a problem-solving element to climbing as you have to plan a route.’

    There are psychological benefits, too. By its very nature, climbing pushes you out of your comfort zone, which builds confidence, whatever your age. ‘It encourages you to conquer your fears as a group – for example, of heights – and that can bring you closer together as a family,’ says Kibble. 

    If you’d prefer to scramble up a real rock-face, look for outdoor climbing experiences. Hatt Adventures in Kent offers bespoke experiences for £35 per person, with over-eights welcome. Rock UK has centres round the UK or try Pure Outdoor in the Peak District. The National Trust also has ideas for kid-friendly climbing at UK beauty spots. 

    The activity: Roller skating

    You might associate it with 1980s roller discos (and some rather questionable hot pants). But in 2022, roller skating is having a moment. Sales of skates rocketed during the pandemic as we all sought out socially distanced activities. ‘Roller queen’ Ana Coto has clocked up millions of views on TikTok, thanks to her smooth moves on wheels. Manchester is even about to get its own space-themed roller rink.

    Roller skating is also free (skates aside) and fun. Kibble says it’s great for balance and coordination, offers a cardio workout (if you move fast enough, that is) and works out leg muscles: ‘Mainly your quads, glutes (bum), hamstrings and calves.’

    ‘As there’s a bit of technique involved, you can all learn and improve as a family, and help each other,’ he adds. 

    To try it en famille, locate your nearest roller rink. Many offer roller discos and ‘learn to skate’ sessions. Roller Nation, in Tottenham, London, has ‘family jams’ for 5- to 14-year-olds and their parents; Disco Skate hosts events across southern England; and Wigan has Europe’s biggest roller rink.

    Still haven’t found your rollerblading feet? The likes of Skatefresh offer tuition for nervous beginners. Finally, don’t forget helmets and pads to protect knees and elbows for those inevitable tumbles…

    The activity: Skateboarding

    Skateboarding is no longer just for rebellious teenagers. Kids can learn it from age 5 upwards, while more middle-aged adults are trying it for the first time (a skateboarding lesson is a classic 40th-birthday present these days). 

    One piece of 2022 research concluded that skateboarding can help those in middle-age navigate depression, connect with their children and offer an ‘emotional outlet’ through personal trials and tribulations.

    All this makes it the perfect generation-spanning activity to try together. With skateboarding ramps in many parks, it’s another activity that doesn’t require tons of cash once you’ve invested in your basic boards/kit. 

    In terms of the benefits, Kibble says: ‘Like skating, it works mainly lower-body muscles’ with a strong cardio element. 

    ‘The first time you go down that ramp it can feel like the biggest thing ever, and give such a sense of achievement – to share that with your family would be great. There’s also an element of skill as you learn tricks.’

    And let’s not forget the cool factor… (even for Dad). ‘Skateboarding is a bit tougher than skating, with an element of danger.’ 

    As with skating, invest in safety gear like helmets, wrist guards and knee pads to cushion any falls.

    The activity: Obstacle course race

    The number of obstacle course races (OCRs) in the UK has mushroomed in recent years. These typically involve scrambling, army-style, through a series of nets, walls, tunnels and water features, amidst tons of mud. While the original challenges were adults-only, many now feature kids’ versions on the same day. For example, OCR stalwart Tough Mudder has Lidl Mudder, a 1-mile course for 5- to 12-year-olds. 

    Not mad about mud? Try a superfun Inflatable 5K run, where you navigate a series of bouncy obstacles – they’re open to everyone aged 5 and upwards, so ideal for families.

    ‘Conquering an obstacle race together gives a sense of achievement, and you may get a medal,’ says Kibble. ‘You’re going through hard times together so are likely to bond. And you’ll probably get wet and muddy, something kids tend to enjoy. There might also be an element of training required you can do as a group.’

    The activity: Dance party

    There’s nothing like dancing to lift your spirits – Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Discos during lockdown showed the simple power of music and movement to cheer us up in tough times and bring families closer. 

    Why not take inspiration from her during half-term by hosting your own dance party? Make things formal: set a time and date, maybe even a themed dress code.

    Ask each family member to choose a few tracks for a playlist and award prizes for the best dancer. For a bigger event, send invites to your extended family: it’s an excuse to get cousins, grandparents, aunties and uncles round for a knees-up. You could also share a YouTube routine for everyone to learn. 

    ‘As adults we often view fun and fitness as something separate, seeing the latter as going to the gym or for a run,’ says Kibble. ‘But something like dancing still helps your health, even if you aren’t doing it for fitness reasons. It gets your heart rate up, requires good mobility and coordination and, if you learn a routine, works your memory as well.’

    Prefer to get out of the house? Investigate a family-friendly clubbing event, such as Big Fish Little Fish, where ravers young and old can let off some steam. 

    The activity: Fitness cards

    Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best (especially if it’s raining). If you’re at a loose end, create a deck of exercise cards, says Kibble. Each family member must write out four with their choice of activity. Each person then shuffles the pack, draws a card and does whatever comes up.

    ‘It could be things like doing star jumps, squats or running around the house,’ suggests Kibble. Or take inspiration from Taskmaster and be as wacky as you like. ‘As a kid we used to make up games like: put all the wooden blocks in the toy truck as fast as you can, then sprint back to lightly touch the cactus. The sillier the better.’

    The activity: Family yoga

    If tensions are rising at home, a family yoga session could be just the ticket – and a way to get mornings off to a chilled start. 

    ‘Yoga is good for flexibility, mobility and relaxation, as well as calming things down,’ says Kibble. ‘And, as with other activities, doing it together helps kids see exercise as part of everyday life.’

    Meanwhile, one 2019 study found that practising family yoga might ‘improve children’s self-esteem and enhance closeness’ with caregivers. All good reasons to try that downward dog together.

    Look on YouTube for guidance: the popular Cosmic Kids channel is ideal for families with younger children. Some yoga studios offer in-person family sessions, such as Yoga House in London, while parent and toddler/baby classes are common everywhere.

    The activity: Triathlon or duathlon

    You might think of triathlons – which involve cycling, running and swimming – and duathlons (running and cycling) as strictly for grown-ups. In fact, a number of events now include categories for children, aged 5 to 7 and upwards – meaning you can kick-start your training programme together this half-term.

    A duathlon for younger kids (5 to 7) involves a 100m run, then a 1k bike ride, then a 500m run. By age 13 to 16, that’s a 600m run, 4k bike ride and 2500m run to finish.

    For triathlons, you’re looking at a 10-18m swim, 1k bike ride and 500m run for 5- to 7-year-olds and a 150m swim, 4k bike ride and 2500m run for 13- to 16-year-olds. Visit UK Triathlon to find your nearest event.

    ‘All three activities have great cardiovascular benefits,’ says Kibble. ‘And with a triathlon you’re really going to feel you’ve accomplished something. Plus, the more sports can be introduced to kids at an early age, the better.’

    Training together is also a good way to channel sibling rivalry. ‘It provides a bit of healthy competition – and there’s no harm in that,’ says Kibble.

    The activity: A new game

    Pickleball – the hybrid racquet game mashing up ping-pong and tennis – was apparently invented when two dads began messing about with table-tennis bats and ‘wiffle’ balls back in the 1960s. In 2021, it was the fastest-growing sport in the US. 

    Why not copy them and invent your own new ball game or sport this half-term? Gather whatever you have lying around – sponge balls, cricket bats, bean bags, shuttlecocks – and draw up your own rules: the wackier the better. ‘The key thing is for you and your kids to enjoy yourselves,’ says Kibble. ‘Fun and fitness don’t have to be separate.’

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