As parents we often find ourselves revisiting activities we did as a child. We’re talking about, swingball, scooters, hydroslides, cycling and adventure playgrounds. I am sure you could think of others in this category. It’s not often that we stop to think about the fitness benefits of these common family activities.

How often do we think: “I haven’t exercised this week or summer is coming up and I want to shed a few kilos or I should really join the gym?” There are lots of opportunities to get lean, improve flexibility, strengthen and tone. This can happen if you take the opportunity to get stuck in and do some active pursuits with the kids.

Let’s check some out…!

1. Go to the beach

What happens? We run out onto the beach barefoot, maybe paddle in the water, collect shells, clamber up some dunes, and build a sandcastle. Well done!

You have just raised your heartbeat, worked the muscles in your legs, tummy, buttocks, arms and back, just to name a few. You have also released a heap of endorphins (feel-good chemicals). Great work!

2. Try out a new playground or visit an old favourite

What happens? Watch the kids as they run, jump, climb, swing, slide, duck and dive! Wow! Your kids have worked almost every muscle in their bodies from this playground visit, including the heart muscle!

No matter what age your kids are, at a playground find excuses to get in there with them. The more you do, the more benefits to your fitness. Get stuck in.

3. Play swingball

I had to add this in as it is a family favourite, low cost and heaps of fun.

Swingball provides a great upper body workout. As we hit the ball from up high, down low or from the side we are working all the back, chest and arm muscles. The abs kick in as we swing and turn. The legs constantly work to stabilise us as we prepare to hit the ball.

Try it freeball (ball just on the top). This is great just for hits. Use a tennis racket to really see the ball fly! My kids and I love to do this. Beware though it does hammer the ball.

Try it with your non-dominant hand to work that side too, always a challenge! Enjoy the elevated heart rate, and endorphin high!

4. Wheels

Cycling: Teach your kids how to ride a bike and you will feel it to as you run behind them holding the seat. As they learn balance and coordination you learn to run fast while bending over! (A great activity, but watch your back.) Parents engage the abs and short duration recommended.

Once the kids have learnt how to ride its good for everyone in the family to get out on their bikes especially as the weather warms. Cycling largely works the big muscles in your legs. As you come off the seat you activate the buttocks as well. Great! Most cyclists will tell you that cycling is a full body workout as the core muscles work hard and the shoulders and wrists stabilise.

Scooters: What a great invention. What a great exercise. The kids in our neighbourhood all scoot to school. They all speed off and are oblivious to the great workout they are having.

Being on a scooter really works the buttocks like no other. One leg has to stabilise while the other one pushes. It is fantastic. I love scooting. Your core muscles will be switched on as your try to balance. Your shoulders and wrists work hard as you grip the handles. Your heart rate will elevate especially on the uphill. The feel-good chemicals will rise as adrenaline takes hold.

5. Water is fun

Being in the water is great. You do not have to be a swimmer either to soak up the benefits. There are lots of ways you can enjoy the water as a family.

Hop in the local pool with the kids. Watch them play in the water, and use boards, noodles and rings. Hydroslides are great for boosting water confidence and lots of fun. How many stairs do we climb to get to the top of the hydroslide? Lots.

Try different types of water i.e. paddling pools, beaches, lakes, wave pools, warm pools, swirl pools.

As the children get older they will be exposed to a large range of activities that will get them in the water for example:

  • Boogie boarding
  • Flipperball
  • Water polo
  • Underwater hockey
  • Surf life saving
  • Aqua jogging
  • Learn to swim schools.

Here are some of the benefits of being in the water:

  • You are lighter when in the water so there is less stress on the joints.
  • Improve your flexibility by stretching in the water. Holding on to the edge of the pool or someone else to get into that stretch. Warm water will assist you to stretch with its relaxation qualities.
  • As you move through the water you are using the water as resistance. You are also working opposing muscles more efficiently than on land. This will tone and strengthen the body quickly especially chest, abdominals, legs and arms.
  • You will burn calories and get fit in no time. Excellent benefits there.

Next time you find your family on bikes or at a park or pool, stop and think about the opportunity for you to exercise. The benefits will lift your mood, and make you look and feel fantastic. The kids will love it too as you inevitably get involved

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Lynda Lovatt is a qualified fitness exercise consultant with a special interest in pregnancy, post-natal fitness and promoting fitness for mums of older children. She delivers menopausal fitness classes and personal training sessions in Wellington. See her website for more about Lynda.

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