Physical Activity: Creating a Family Plan

If your physical activity is tough to schedule, why not make it a family affair? You’ll be setting lifelong examples for your children. And you’ll develop a healthy habit for yourself.

Path to improved wellness

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that all children participate in physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes each day. The AAFP encourages parents and schools to make it a priority. This might seem like common sense. However, many of today’s kids find entertainment in video games and television. This leads to inactivity. The AAFP discourages long periods of inactivity both at school and at home.

The AAFP supports the in-school nutrition and physical activity program Fuel Up to Play 60. The National Dairy Council, National Football League, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered to create this program to encourage today’s youth to lead healthier lives.

Families can participate in physical activities in a number of ways. It doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many activities family members of all ages can do together, from babies to grandparents. Some ideas include:

  • Walks. Your neighborhood is always a good choice for a walk. If you want something different, head to your local park on nice days. You can even spend time walking at the zoo, a college campus, or an indoor shopping mall. Remember, as a family, you could walk to school and walk the dog. Many communities have dog parks designed for walks with your pet. Purchase a pedometer (a device that tracks your steps) or fitness tracker to see how much activity you logged. There are also apps you can download on your phone to track your physical activity.
  • Join a gym, or design your own. Many community recreation centers offer affordable family memberships. These give you and your family access to fitness equipment, pools, and walking tracks. The YMCA is often the most affordable. If you cannot afford a gym membership, design your own workout space. Use cans of food or jugs of water as weights for lifting. Practice resistance training with a pair of tights or women’s nylons. Tie a knot in them to make a circle. You can stretch your leg and arm muscles with these. Use the stairs in your home instead of buying stair climbing equipment. And don’t forget the floor. It’s good for crunches, leg lifts, pushups, and jumping jacks. Sometimes, technology can even be helpful. There are many good videos for yoga, Pilates, dancing, and other activities that will get you moving.
  • Ride bikes. If you have babies or small children, there are bike accessories that make bringing your baby along very easy.
  • Swim. If you live in a neighborhood that has a pool, you are probably paying to use it, whether you do or not. Start using it. If you live near a lake or ocean that allows swimming, that may be another low-cost option. Always use flotation devices with children, and follow the water safety rules posted near the pool, lake, or ocean.
  • Lawn games. Use your yard or a local park to play a game of tag, toss a ball, fly a kite, chase bubbles, or throw a Frisbee.

Regardless of the activities you choose, make time for it. Think about your family’s schedule. The best times for your family may be after dinner, early in the morning, or during lunch.

Make the time fun. If you take a walk around the same location each time, mix things up. Play a game of “I spy” to see who can find a particular object on the walk. Sing songs. Run races for part of the walk. Add a family picnic with healthy food. Bring plenty of water. Consider having fun water bottles and spray fans that squirt water.

Invite friends and relatives to join your physical activity. If you plan to play a game of touch football in the backyard, invite your neighbors, your friends, or your cousins to join.

Adapt your activity based on the ages of your children. As your children become teens, they might prefer to ride bikes or play tennis instead of walking. The key to physical activity is to keep it fun and mix it up.

Things to consider

Exercise is important for both your physical and mental health, including:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • certain cancers
  • high blood pressure
  • cholesterol
  • Alzheimer’s disease/dementia
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stress
  • osteoporosis
  • better skin complexion
  • improved immune system (to fight off colds and infections).

Talk to your doctor before starting any excessive physical activity. Drink plenty of water when you exercise. Be sure to stretch for 10 minutes before you start your daily exercise activity. It is also important to cool down and stretch after exercising.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • If I already have certain health conditions, can I still exercise?
  • Do I have to exercise for 30 minutes at once, or can I break it up into smaller segments throughout the day?
  • Are there risks to overdoing your physical activity?
  • Are some forms of physical activity better than others?


Fuel Up to Play 60

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Everyday Ideas to Move More

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Exercising on a budget