What Is Family Fitness?

A mother playing soccer with her kids

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Family fitness—exercising and and otherwise living a healthy lifestyle as a group—is for every family, large and small, young and old, urban and rural. By sharing physical activity and nutritious foods, your family can improve your health and enjoy your time together. Use active games, smart snacks, youth sports, and more to create healthy habits for your whole "home team."

The Big Benefits of Family Fitness

Those habits can provide lots of good things you probably already know about. Being physically active and eating well promote disease prevention, weight loss or maintenance, stress reduction, improved performance at school and work, increased longevity, and more.

As parents, we are role models for our kids, so making family fitness a priority sets a great precedent. But we get something out of the deal too. Role modeling helps hold us accountable for our own behavior.

It can be very motivating to know your child is watching. Keep that in mind if you ever feel guilty about spending time on exercise.

For kids, being introduced to healthy behaviors early is a gift. They are so ready to learn and retain new information and create good habits when they are young. Doing so will help build their physical confidence, too. And everyone in the family can benefit from the bonding that comes from sharing active play and family meals.

Get Started With a Family Fitness Plan

The first step to a fun and effective plan is a goal. Maybe you're concerned about your child's weight or your own. Maybe you've noticed your family's habits and hobbies tend to be sedentary instead of active. Maybe you made a resolution (for the New Year, a birthday, or back to school) to change your lifestyle.

Maybe you're planning an active summer vacation, or your child wants to join a sports team and needs to get in shape. Whatever your reason, there are lots of ways to get started on improving your family's fitness.

Creating a family fitness plan need not be complicated or overwhelming. What it really means is a new commitment to adding more activity to your life. It might help to think of it as a challenge you tackle together. Work on sending the message that physical activity is a fun, healthy habit that makes you feel good, not a chore to be endured. You can do this by:

  • Asking your child to teach you: Are they a star skater or a whiz at water polo? Request a lesson! Active kids love to show off their expertise.
  • Enjoying exercise: Whether it's a vigorous kickboxing class or a leisurely walk, tell your child how you feel after you're done. Energized? Happier? Tired, but proud of what you accomplished?
  • Playing together: Kids love your attention. Take them to the playground, go outside for a game of catch, or have a spontaneous dance party.
  • Praising effort, not results: Your child won't be able to ride a two-wheeler or sink a basket on their first attempt. To fend off frustration (in both inactive and active kids), be sure to acknowledge how hard they're trying.
  • Offering positive reinforcement: If your child makes a healthy choice, notice it—out loud. When they learn a new skill, record it on video, and show it to friends and family.
  • Setting a good example: Choose action over electronics whenever you can. Walk to the store instead of driving, take the stairs, and shelve the leaf blower in favor of a rake. Even if you're not athletic, you can move!

Don't fall prey to confidence-zappers like using exercise as punishment, offering food as a reward, or using scare tactics. Instead of, "If you watch too much TV, you'll get fat and sick," say something like, "Riding your bike helps make your legs and heart strong."

If they're old enough, talk to your kids about what you're doing and get their buy-in. What are their favorite healthy snacks? Which fitness class would they like to take at your local community center? What family fitness goal can you work toward together—and how might you reward yourselves?

Look at your schedule and try to add just a little bit of activity at a time, like 15 minutes, two or three days a week. That could mean walking to school, going for a bike ride, or playing a quick backyard game. Eventually, work up to at least 150 minutes per week per family member.

Family Fitness, Age by Age

While all children need daily physical activity, their interests and abilities change as they grow. Know what your child needs now.

Share Active Play

Ready, set, go! The key is to find fitness activities that inspire you to keep moving. Change things up often to keep from falling into a rut. Look for sports, exercises, and games that you can do together, separately, or both—whatever works for your family. To get you started:

All About Youth Sports

If your kids participate in youth sports, great! They'll score big benefits from doing so, and there are even some nice perks for sports parents, too (along with the volunteer work). While sports can be challenging for your family schedule and wallet, the boost to your child's fitness, social skills, and sense of sportsmanship usually makes them worth your while. They're also just a lot of fun.

If you think your child doesn't like sports, remember that there is something out there for almost everyone.

Maybe one of these 14 unusual sports will do the trick—and you'll become a die-hard sports parent after all. Practicing your child's sport of choice outside of team time is a great way to stay active together, too.

Family Fitness for Moms and Dads

Fitting in fitness is a big challenge for most parents, no matter what your particular circumstances are. Sometimes the challenges are logistical, sometimes physical, sometimes mental. To overcome them, keep trying until you find a strategy that works.

That could mean rethinking your schedule; finding an unexpected, inexpensive fitness class or workout opportunity; decluttering your home to inspire exercise; checking out a group fitness class or podcast that inspires you; or working to beat fitness backsliding. Once you get into a groove, you'll want to work on sticking with an exercise routine.

Family Fitness in the Kitchen

Ever heard the expression, "You can't exercise your way out of a bad diet"? That's as true for families as it is for people with weight loss goals.

Eating right helps you all achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and it also keeps your energy up to power you through busy days.

It's important to start with a good breakfast, serve up sensible snacks and school lunches, and find a way to get dinner on the table (even if the "table" is the back seat of your car). Prepping in advance helps a lot, and so can the right shopping list. And don't forget plenty of water.

A Word From Verywell

Family fitness is a way of life, not an instant fix. Give yourself time and space to make changes and form new habits. Slow and steady wins this race, but you can win it. You need the right mindset and the right tools, and you can find them right here.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tuso P. Strategies to increase physical activityPerm J. 2015;19(4):84‐88. doi:10.7812/TPP/14-242

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.