Engaging in physical activity together as a family models healthy behaviors, strengthens relationships, and leads to numerous mental and physical benefits for children now and for years to come. Learn how to incorporate family-based physical activity into your family’s routine.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month.
In Illinois, 15.2% of teens in grades 9-12 have obesity.
As kids head back to school, it is a great time to examine your current routines and establish new healthy family habits. Parents can play an important role in modeling physical activity behaviors for their children, having a positive impact on their children’s physical activity levels for years to come.
You know you should exercise for 30 minutes at least five days per week, but what about your kids? The CDC recommends children ages 6 through 17 get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity each day, and young children aged 3 through 5 should engage in active play daily. Currently in Illinois, only about a quarter of teens in grades 9 through 12 meet this recommendation.
Research shows that participating in physical activity as a family is associated with higher levels of physical activity and reduced rates of obesity in both children and adults. Being active together as a family can provide social support and a positive effect on mental health including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety and improved self-esteem. While traditional workouts may not be appropriate for children of all ages, there are many activities your family can adopt to be active together.
Go for a walk
Walk to school or take a walk that ends at your bus stop. Walking in the morning before school and the workday is a great way to get the whole family moving and can even improve academic performance! If a morning walk doesn’t fit into your day, make it a habit to walk before or after dinner. If your kids lose interest, try walking to a new park or playground or gamify the walk with a scavenger hunt. Some neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks or may not feel safe for family walks, if you drive your child to school, consider parking a few blocks away and walking from there.
Get involved in sports
There are lots of opportunities for your kids to participate in school, club, or recreational sports. While attending practices and games provides a time and space for them to be active, parents often find themselves sitting on the sidelines or spending extra time in the car. Bring your sneakers and walk the perimeter of the field during soccer practice or complete a bodyweight workout with exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, and plank.
Break up screen time with movement snacks
When homework, video games, or television have you or the kids sitting for more than an hour at a time, interrupt with a dance break, a race up and down the stairs, or a push-up contest. Even as little as 30 seconds of vigorous activity during prolonged sitting can provide short- and long-term health benefits.
- Beets, M. W., Cardinal, B. J., & Alderman, B. L. (2010) Parental social support and the physical activity-related behaviors of youth: A review. Health Education & Behavior, 37(5).
- Carson, R. L., Castelli, D. M., Beighle, A. E., & Erwin, H. E. (2014). Physical activity-physical fitness association in middle school girls: influences of social support from parents, peers, and teachers. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11(1).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023, May 3). Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity: Data, trends and maps.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Physical activity basics for adults.
- Golan, M., Weizman, A., & Apter, A. (2014). Family-based intervention for childhood obesity: Psychological aspects. Journal of behavioral Medicine, 37(1).
- Laurson, K. R., Lee, J. A., Gentile, D. A., Walsh, D. A., & Eisenmann, J. C. (2014). Concurrent associations between physical activity, screen time, and sleep duration with childhood obesity. ISRN Obesity, 2014, 204540.
- Madsen, K. A., McCulloch, C., & Crawford, P. B. (2009). Parent modeling: Perceptions of parents’ physical activity predict girls’ activity throughout adolescence. The Journal of Pediatrics, 154(2).
- Rhodes, R. E. & Kates, A. (2015). Can the family structure facilitate exercise even amongst adults? A review of sibling and spousal influence on physical activity. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(1).
- University of Illinois Extension County Profiles (2018).