They Won't Know It's Exercise: Active Play Ideas for Kids

They Won't Know It's Exercise: Active Play Ideas for Kids

Does your child roll his eyes at the thought of exercise? These ideas for active play will make him or her want to get off the couch.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Think back to your favorite childhood game. Was it hopscotch, tag, hide-and-go-seek? Ask kids now what their choice game is, and they'll probably answer with the name of a computer or video game.

A sitting problem
Kids today are less active than previous generations. One in four children does not take part in any leisure time physical activity. Instead, they squander too much time being sedentary. Most kids spend four to five hours in front of the TV, computer, or video game screen each day.

A lack of exercise - plus poor food choices and larger portion sizes - is at least partly to blame for the childhood obesity problem in our country. About one in three children and teens is overweight. Weighing too much can lead to serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Many parents place obesity as their number one health concern for their children, above drug use and cigarette smoking.

What to do about it
Experts say children need 60 minutes of exercise each day to stay healthy. Ask your doctor about a good activity level for your child. Here's how to help them reach that goal:

  • Cut down on "screen" time. Limit the time your child spends watching TV, playing video or computer games, and texting friends to less than two hours each day. Then, fill their extra time with hobbies that are more physically active.
  • Be a good role model. You are your child's biggest influence. If you make exercise a priority each day and have a positive attitude about it, your son or daughter will be more apt to follow suit. Invite your child to be active with you. Take a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner instead of watching TV.
  • Help kids find activities they enjoy. Not every child is meant to be a star athlete. But there are many ways to get physical activity besides playing traditional sports. And, keep in mind that physical activity doesn't have to be structured. An impromptu game of mini-golf or an afternoon spent at the ice skating rink all count.

Making fitness fun
If your kids balk at the thought of a workout, try these ideas for active play. They'll have so much fun they won't realize they are exercising:

  1. Take active family outings. Plan family activities and vacations so they include exercise. Hike at a local park, swim during beach trips, or sightsee in a new city on foot or by bike.
  2. Have a contest with your child. See who can jump rope longer, do more sit-ups, shoot more baskets, or keep up the hoola-hooping longest. Repeat the competition often.
  3. Dance! Play fun music at home and dance with your child. Try dancing while cleaning or during commercial breaks of TV shows.
  4. Play Simon Says. Tell your kids that "Simon" says to do jumping jacks, run around the backyard, or hop on one foot.
  5. Host active parties. At your child's birthday celebration or next family gathering, start a volleyball game or Frisbee toss.
  6. Clean quickly. Most kids don't like doing chores. But they'd probably like them more if they took less time to complete. Time how long it takes your child to get through his chores. Then encourage him to beat his time during the next round of cleaning. Make sure the chores are being done well, though, without cutting corners.
  7. Train for a race. Sign yourself and your child up for a local charity walk or run. Many running races offer short "fun run" options for kids.
  8. Tackle the obstacles. Set up an obstacle course in your backyard or at a park using playground equipment, jump ropes, balls, and cones.
  9. Do yard work. Ask your child to help you rake leaves, plant veggies, or weed. Encourage your kids to care for their garden. You may also nurture a love for nature in the process.
  10. Scrub a dub dub. Allow your kids to help you wash the car or the windows. Playing in the water and soap suds is fun for kids. And they may take pride in helping you out.


  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Tips for getting active. Accessed: 08/12/2010
  • American Council on Exercise. 10 fun fitness summer activities for kids. Accessed: 08/12/2010
  • American Heart Association. Understanding childhood obesity. Accessed: 08/12/2010

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