How To Stay Fit With The Whole Family At Every Age

    A mother and daughter doing a family fitness activity
    Published: 8 February 2021. Written by: Libby Galvin

    Whether you’re wrangling a two-year-old or trying to home-school GCSE students, lockdown duties leave most of us with little time for physical activity. That’s why this half term Vitality is helping to keep you and your family active whilst still having fun! Here’s some ways to get moving indoors or outdoors and earn those Vitality points with the fam…

    Want more inspiration for your family? We have loads of fun activities, recipes, workouts to read or to watch on our Happy Half Term channel. 

    It may have seen the rise of the PE with Joe phenomenon, but last year’s lockdown had a drastic impact on children’s activity levels. The number of kids getting involved in physical activity for the recommended hour or more a day dropped from 47 per cent pre-lockdown to just 19 per cent in May 2020, according to research by Sport England. 

    In the absence of friends to play with or access to leisure centres for after-school clubs, 71 per cent of children who remained active are doing so with their parents or carers. And the most popular physical activity enjoyed as a family? Walking or bike rides. Frequent movement like this is essential at any age – and for children in particular, physical activity is key to improving cognition and academic achievement, as well as keeping them fit and boosting mental health. 

    So, what are the pros of family fitness? ‘You’ll save time and bond as a family,’ suggests Ian Parkin, Head of Sports Performance at Worksop College and Ranby House school in Nottinghamshire and former elite cricketer. He recommends dedicating your lunch hour to all-out activity.   

    Here, child health expert Ian along with Mike Stevens, a Les Mills Born To Move instructor, share their advice for keeping fit as a family.

    Man pushing child in a pram

    Age 0-1: Take a brisk stroll with your baby

    If you’ve recently had a baby, you’ll know that the first year is full of physical changes for both mother and child. Getting active together can help you build strong bonds.

    ‘Children learn by observation. If you’re a static family, it’s likely your children will follow in your footsteps – or lack of them! Part of encouraging your child to move more is doing more yourself,’ says Ian. 

    ‘It’s never too early to teach kids the importance of exercise and wellness,’ agrees Mike.

    ‘At this age, it’s important to introduce your baby to his or her body and allow them to find themselves. Have you noticed a baby when they first discover their feet? They’re amazed by them and won’t let go. Exercise should never be forced – just 5-minute bursts of physical or sensory play can make a huge impact to the babies’ development.’

    If the weather’s good, Mike suggests getting outside for a long walk. They’ll get a mental workout exploring the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the world from the safety of their pram, while you’ll enjoy the benefits of a brisk stroll. Although bear in mind that in this post-partum period it’s important not to push your body too far.

    Back indoors, it’s all about sensory play and movement. Try an online yoga class designed for parents and baby – with any luck, they can enjoy some tummy time while you practise your downward-facing dog.

    Mum and kid dancing 

    Age 2-5: Let your pre-schooler teach YOU how to move

    ‘At this age, it’s all about exploration rather than formal exercise. It’s a time for kids to fall over, to climb stuff, and to work out for themselves what their bodies can do,’ says Ian.

    Toddlers need around three hours of physical activity dotted throughout the day to support their brain development, build strong muscles, joints and bones, and develop coordination, balance and flexibility,’ adds Mike.

    Indoors, it can be as simple as building a fort with sofa cushions, knocking it down and jumping on it. My 3-year-old son really responds to musical play, simple dance moves and lots of clapping. The great thing with toddlers is that they enjoy repetition; they like the familiarity and, just like adult athletes, they love to see the improvements in their performance,’ says Mike.

    When you play together, imitate the way your child moves in order to improve your form, suggests Ian. ‘When a young child bends down to pick something up, they squat properly with their back in a really good, straight position, whereas we can spend hours in strength and conditioning suites later in life re-learning what we came naturally as a baby!’

    Outdoors, organise a treasure hunt, says Mike. ‘These are great fun for toddlers: make a list of things to find in the garden or park and ask your child to go and find everything. They learn about the objects and nature, and get a huge sense of achievement.’

    To up your own exercise quotient, make the hunt longer and walk or jog between locations, while your child uses a scooter or balance bike to get around.

    Girl and dad playing basketball

    Age 6-10: Solve problems with your primary school kids

    ‘The focus should be on fundamental movement skills – with the emphasis on the fun,’ says Ian. At this age, at least 60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise is needed.

    ‘Something you can do indoors together is to take two water bottles in your hands, lie on your back, then try to get up without using your hands to help you. With this sort of challenge they’re working their body and their mind to solve a problem,’ says Ian.

    This is just as good for your coordination and mobility as an adult as it is for your child – in fact, you may find this tougher than they do.

    If your child is into team sports and misses the structure of team training sessions, Ian advises encouraging them to use the time to work on areas they’re not quite so good at. ‘If you’re in a cricket, football or rugby team, training is nearly all about team-based skills. It’s rare to have the chance to just practise something on your left hand or foot, for example. But lockdown has given us that. So for all those wannabe pro rugby players who don’t pass well off their left – get outside and practise!

    ‘Vitality Ambassador Joe Root has just gone and scored a double hundred in Sri Lanka for England, and the sweep shot was the one that got him there. It’s a challenging technique which involves ‘sweeping’ the bat across the body and dropping your back knee, so I told my cricketers to go and spend an hour practising that. It’s a chance to do a bit of self-guided learning.’

    It’s important at this age to ensure they’re doing something they’re interested in – so follow their lead and offer to play goalie or fielder.

    Boys doing pressups

    Age 11-13: Help your pre-teens do press-ups

    Pre-teens still need at least an hour of exercise a day, but they can start to drift away from physical activity if they don’t feel they fit well within a particular sport. So it’s important to help them develop strength independently, using bodyweight exercises such as press-ups and pull-ups. This gives them the tools to take charge of their own fitness. It also means that if they take an interest in a new sport, they’ll be fit enough to dive right in.

    If you’re staying indoors, look for bodyweight workout videos you can do together to keep things interesting, says Mike. ‘Variety is the spice of life, and this is the age where a child’s eyes can truly be opened to new experiences. But some children may start to feel self-conscious around others and that’s where online instructor-led sessions can really help.’

    Outdoors, find a climbing frame and bench and use them to do pull-ups and press-ups together, adjusting for your strength level. ‘If you’re still building up strength, try a press-up at a 45-degree angle against the back of a bench, before progressing to doing it from the floor. Once you’ve mastered that, take your feet up onto the seat of the bench to create more gravity, with your feet above your head. For pull-ups or chin-ups, help each other at first by holding a little of the other person’s weight as they perform the move. 

    Soon you’ll both have mastered it – then try challenging each other to do more reps,’ says Ian.

    ‘Exercise can start getting competitive here, but keep it fun and relaxed. Children (and adults) love to experience physical development and beating personal bests,’ says Mike. 

    Family exercising together

    Age 13+: Train with your teenager

    Now is the time you can really start to work out together without making many modifications.

    ‘If teenagers stay engaged with exercise through their teens, it will probably stay with them into adulthood,’ says Mike. ‘The impact exercise has on their mental health is also immeasurable. Teenagers should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 5 days a week. The exercise should be varied and involve some light resistance work to help develop muscle and bone strength.’

    If you’ve already been doing bodyweight training and perfected your form together, you can begin to add weight, says Ian. ‘Grab that unused rucksack, fill it with a few books and wear it while you do your press-ups.’

    Or take on a new challenge together. Indoors, it could be a Peloton class or activity through your Apple Watch, for example. 

    Outdoors you can use your activity tracker or an app to follow each other’s achievements. This way you also have the option of exercising apart while still sharing the experience – as we all know, teens enjoy their independence. ‘It’s important to have activities they can do on their own. We all need time to ourselves to help strengthen our mental health,’ says Mike.

    Interested in more ideas for family exercise? Find fitness ideas you can all get involved with in our blog 7 inspiring ways to be fit and happy as a family.

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