Signup for our newsletter to receive pregnancy, parenting and child health updates.

articles and blog

Encouraging kids to stay active and eat well are very important. However, it may not be enough to have them go at it alone.

As children get older, their interest in physical activity can wane, so it is up to parents to make family fitness a priority throughout a child's development and into young adulthood. One of the best ways to approach this problem is for parents to find activities that they can do alongside their kids.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), children under the age of 17 require at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The DHHS also recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

Finding activities that both parents and kids can enjoy is an easy way to guarantee these fitness goals are met. Here are some other ways to make physical activity a priority for your family:

Let Your Child Pick Activities

One way to get your kids engaged in a new activity with you is to let them decide the activity for themselves. Allowing your child to pick the activity makes him or her feel more involved in the decision-making process and can make the activity more important to them.

Parents should also encourage their kids to be open to new activities as they grow and develop. If the parent is always the one choosing the sports or activities for the child, then they might not enjoy participating in those activities as much as if they had chosen them.

Create a Family Activity Calendar

A simple and effective way to make family fitness a priority is to use a family activity calendar. If you are a working parent with a busy schedule, family activity calendars are a great way to ensure you are spending enough time with your kids doing the activities that are keeping them happy and healthy.

This calendar can be in a physical or digital format, just make sure it is in a place that is visible and accessible for your entire family. If you miss a scheduled activity, simply use your calendar to reschedule that activity for another time in the future. Having the proper scheduling tools in place can make parents more accountable for the planning and follow through of such activities.

Limit Screen Time

Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of "screen time" per day? It is important for parents to put limits in place to make sure unhealthy screen habits do not develop at an early age and continue into young adulthood.

It is also important to understand that cellphone/tablet addiction is a documented problem for adults, and there have even been instances of children as young as 3 exhibiting symptoms of addiction to their devices.

If you must, use a timer that your child can easily follow. When appropriate, reward your child with a reasonable amount of screen time after good performance in school or sports.

Be Social or Competitive

Getting more people involved in your activities can make them fun and more enjoyable for both parents and kids. Consider organizing scheduled playtime with neighbors and their kids or even your child’s classmates from school.

Physical activity can and should be a social event. The right activities can even teach kids the basics of good sportsmanship and communication.

No matter what, always be positive and encouraging. Physical activity is easier for some, and harder for others, especially those who are overweight or overly self-conscious about their performance.

Talk with Your Child's Pediatrician

If your child has ongoing health concerns or injuries, talk with your child's pediatrician about finding appropriate activities you can do together.  Avoid further injury and frustration by starting out small and working your way up to more involved activities that are a good fit for your child's age and health.

Finding Fun Ideas for Family Activities

Looking for some fun or different ideas for activities you can do with your kids? Try one of these activities the next time you and your kids get the urge to get active together.

  • Perform chores around the house together
  • Clean up the yard or garden
  • Dance in the basement to your favorite songs
  • Volunteer to help clean a local park
  • Play sports like soccer, basketball, tennis
  • Go for an extended bike ride
  • Swim laps at a local pool
  • Go for family walks after dinner
  • Take the stairs instead of using elevators or escalators
  • Tracks your steps throughout the day
  • Take the family dog for a walk or jog

By making physical activity a priority from an early age, your kids will be more likely to grow into an adult that practices the same healthy habits.

Shane Stephenson, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest

Dr. Shane Stephenson is a family medicine physician practicing at Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest. His goal is prevention and wellness for those he treats. Through his own experience as a teenager with his dad, he knows that if there is an illness that it doesn't only affect the one with the diagnosis, but the whole family is affected in different ways. He cares about the whole family of his patients and wants to be there for them. For ParentSavvy, Dr. Stephenson writes about ...

Learn more about this expert