If you’re juggling a job and homeschool, you may be finding it hard to help your kids stay active. Or maybe you’re the one who’s lost your workout mojo — perhaps you’re picking up extra shifts in an essential job, or putting in longer hours working from home.
But exercising is as important as ever right now, for grownups and kids. The government recommends that children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. But school closures amid COVID-19 may be limiting some kids’ ability to stay active, as a perspective piece published in the journal Obesity in March noted. That, the researchers pointed out, plus limited access to healthy meals, may end up worsening the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic and increase already existing disparities in obesity risks.
Other researchers have voiced similar worries. One group surveyed parents in South Korea and China and found that in both countries children’s screen time increased and their physical activity routines changed. “If this pandemic has reduced healthy movement behaviours among children,” they warned in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, “we should be concerned.”
Madison Mackay, a primary care nurse practitioner in Ontario, Canada who treats adults and children, agrees. “With the current climate and reduced access to sports teams and recreational activities, children are spending more time indoors and more time using technological devices,” she says.
Work on getting your gang moving. Channel your inner child: Get out there and play. “For kids and adults, making movement fun with games can be very effective,” says Gavin Buehler, a registered massage therapist and strength and conditioning coach in Collingwood, Ontario. “Playing can be very physically demanding.” A simple game of tag can be enough to get your heart rate up.
Before starting any new exercise plan, it's a good idea to get your doctor's approval. If you're good to go, try one of the fun family workouts below.
For Families With Littles (kids ages 0 to 2 years)
Use your baby as a barbell
OK, not literally. But lifting your wee one up and down can be a great way to bond and squeeze in a workout at the same time. “I love having new moms and dads use their baby or toddler for weighted exercise,” says Jaclyn Fulop, a board-licensed physical therapist, runner, and busy mom. Since transitioning most of her practice to telehealth, she’s been prescribing family workouts to new moms who can’t make it in for their usual physical therapy.
Give it a whirl: Three times a week, with your baby safely stowed in a front carrier, crank out three sets of 10 squats and forward lunges. If you do this workout for a couple of months, as your baby gets heavier, you’ll get stronger. You can also try Fulop’s babe-in-stroller workout: With a medium-resistance band around your ankles, walk sideways while slowly pushing your babe up the driveway and back. Do 10 lateral steps, keeping your knees slightly bent in a squatting position; then repeat on the opposite side. Take a minute to rest. Complete the exercise three times in both directions for a workout that targets the glutes, quads, and abductors.
Pro tip? Watch the weight: Your child will gain weight rapidly in her first few months of life. As she grows, Fulop says, make sure you’re maintaining proper form when you’re completing the moves above. If you need guidance, consult the American Council on Exercise for their video tutorials. Once your babe gets too big to comfortably (and safely!) lift, seek out a new activity you can share together.
Tummy time as training time
While your baby is on the floor working on his neck and core strength, line up beside him, says Fulop. “Abdominal isometrics are great, and very safe for the low back,” she says. Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Keep your back flat and hollow out your stomach by sucking in your abs and squeezing them; hold for three to five seconds. Do 10 reps of this twice a day while your baby relaxes next to you. Got an older baby at home? If your little guy is old enough to sit upright without his head wobbling, sit him between your hips and do a set of 10 bridges; repeat for a total of two or three sets. You’ll work your abs, hips, and butt.
Pro tip? Make time for Mama: You’ve probably heard the old airplane oxygen mask analogy: You need to put yours on first to be able to help others. So much easier said than done, but carving out time for physical activity can do wonders for your mental health. Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), exercising postpartum can help new moms maintain a healthy weight and improve their mood. Make sure to avoid “intensity-based exercises,” Fulop says, in the first month or two after your baby’s birth, until your doctor gives you the go-ahead. Once you’re cleared, “There are gentle workout options I love,” Mackay says, like pilates instructor Hilaria Baldwin’s “great yoga videos on YouTube or, if you’re interested in running, Nike’s stroller-friendly tips on the Nike Run Club app.”
If You’ve Got School-Age Kids (ages 3 to 10)
Stretch it out with yoga
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends yoga as a safe and potentially effective therapy for children coping with emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral health conditions. Cosmic Kids Yoga's storytime-like programming is perfect for engaging young minds. Alo Yoga, another great resource, offers yoga and meditation videos for kids that are a bit more traditional (while still being fun).
If you’d like to support a local business during COVID times, inquire with a studio near you to see if they’re offering child-friendly workouts online. Once you find a class your little one likes, jump in with them. “Make exercise a family activity,” says Mackay, who does Cosmic Kids Yoga with her own kids, ages 3 and 4, after dinner three or four times each week, in addition to getting them out for bike rides and walks when she can. “Children are more excited to be active when they can do it with their parents.”
Pro tip? Let kids lead: “Give them choices” says Nadia Kyba, a facilitator, registered social worker and mother of two who helps athletes, couples, families, and others resolve conflict. Let them pick the yoga video or choose the music you’ll listen to while you work out. “Try to make choosing to exercise feel like their idea,” she says. Creating a “family challenge” chart that tracks their exercise each day may also get them excited about moving. Every time they complete their daily activity, reward them with a sticker for the chart.
Dab away the wiggles
Or swing, cha-cha, whatever. Dancing can raise your heart rate, improve strength and balance, sharpen your memory and boost your mood. Best of all, it’s great for all ages. If you’ve got kids in grades K through 5, try a video series with easy-to-follow dance tutorials such as GoNoodle, a video platform that offers short interactive movement and mindfulness activities. Or, if you’re already a family with rhythm, let your kids create 20-minute playlists and hold freestyle dance-offs in the living room. Make it harder for yourself by adding “some jumping jacks or pushups,” says Roz Lougheed-Simpson, MD, a Toronto-based family doctor. “Your workout might not be as structured as it was before you had little ones,” she says, “but those movements do add up.”
Pro tip? Allow your wallflower to ease in: “Don’t force it,” Kyba recommends. “Instead, show them how much fun it is to dance. They might decide to join in on their own. Or ask if there’s a different type of dancing, music, or activity that they would rather do. Try to make exercise as much of a choice as possible, not a chore."
For Tweens and Teens
Go for a walk, jog, or bike ride
Only 5.1% children ages 11 to 19 meet the government’s physical activity guidelines, according to the nonprofit National Physical Activity Plan Alliance’s 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Make exercise a normal part of your older child’s routine by doing it with him, one on one. You’ll get your heart rates up and have a chance to bond. “Teenagers are complicated,” Mackay says. “They’re developing their sense of independence and starting to explore their own interests away from home.” Find an activity your older child likes. Hiking, jogging, running, or cycling are all great options.
Pro tip? Use the chance to talk: Aim to move at a clip that allows you to chat. Having you all to herself may encourage your teen to open up. “Exercising with your teenager can be a great way to get them to get comfortable telling you what’s really going on in their lives,” Fulop says. “Just make sure you’re checking in with each other on pace so that one of you doesn’t end up grumpy and overworked by the end."
Allow your kid to exercise (safely!) with a buddy
Teens need to socialize. Connectedness — “a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging,” per the CDC — can protect adolescents against several negative health outcomes, including some related to sexual risk, substance use, violence, and mental health. School friends can help create that sense of connectedness.
The COVID-19 situation is fluid. In some places, case numbers are spiking again, and local health officials are issuing new lockdown orders. In others, though, health officials are allowing people to form small social groups (sometimes called “bubbles” or “pods”). If your local health department is allowing this, you can consider letting your teen call a friend for a safe, socially distant outdoor workout — provided you and she are following your local health department’s rules on socializing as well as the CDC’s standard social distancing guidelines. Your teen and her friend should wear masks the whole time and maintain six feet of physical distance.
Pro tip? Supervise, don’t hover: You may have the urge to tag along with your teen to ensure she complies. Do chaperone; just give her room. Teenagers crave privacy. You’re more likely to be successful at monitoring your teen’s behavior in general if you’ve shown that you’re open and available to talk, offer useful advice, and respect her opinion without judgment. Help her make healthy choices on her own by enabling her with the right tools. Let her pick out and purchase a mask she likes, and invite her friend over for a workout in your backyard, where you can keep an eye on them at a distance. (Bear in mind, of course, that the minute your state or local government issues a new stay-at-home order, this option is not advised and should be off the table.)
Tackle a circuit workout
Changing health habits for the better may be easier to do with a partner who attempts it with you, some research has shown. In one 2015 study, UK researchers found that people were more likely to form healthy habits such as stopping smoking, exercising more, and losing weight when their partners did it, too. Try doing a quick circuit workout together, says Buehler. Start with a 5- to 10-minute warmup of your choice. Then do each of the following exercises for one minute each, with the goal of completing as many repetitions of the move in that time as you can (click below to view demos of each exercise):
Take a minute of rest between each move. Then repeat the entire circuit three to five times.
Pro tip? Remember teamwork makes the dream work: “When working out with your partner, make sure you’re on the same page,” says Kyba. “What are your partner’s needs and expectations, and what are yours? This is important to figure out beforehand so you find exercising together enjoyable, not irritating.” This means pre-planning sessions by setting a start and end time, taking turns choosing your workout playlist, and being patient if one of you is fitter than the other. It’s OK (and normal!) to not be at the exact same fitness level. Just focus on moving together and having a good time.
Engage in a little friendly competition
Competition can be exciting and fun. Since you won’t be lining up for a 5K anytime soon, try this challenging game with your partner. Buehler calls it Add-On, and the premise is simple: You start with one move, then your partner mimics it and adds another. You then copy both moves — the one you started with and the one your partner added — and add another on top. The game goes on like this, with the two of you alternating turns adding moves so that the sequence grows longer and longer.
A word of warning: This can get hard, fast, and competitive, too. “I love it because it engages both your imagination and your memory,” Buehler says, not to mention your muscles. If you forget one of the exercises or do them out of order, the game ends, and you lose. To make a solid sweat session out of this, aim to play this game for 30 to 45 minutes with your partner. When one of you messes up the sequence (it’ll happen!), take a 1- to 2-minute water break before starting a brand-new sequence. Do this until the clock runs out on your workout.
Pro tip? Build in a reward: Exercising with your romantic partner is a win-win, Lougheed-Simpson says. “Carving out time to move together has the combined positive effect of helping you get a workout in and bonding time. And adding competition makes it more exciting.” Up the ante by putting a prize on the line: Loser cooks dinner, puts the kids to bed, or takes out the trash. Your pick.
Note to our readers: This information is being made available as a free resource to the public. It is not an endorsement of any of the consultants, services, programs, or websites mentioned. The individuals and organizations referenced have not solicited Rally Health to be included in the article and Rally Health receives no compensation from them.