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How To Build An Exercise Routine Into Your Family Life

by Sarah on August 20, 2012

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Every afternoon the same thing happened . . .

As the Brooklyn sunlight started to turn orange, my then 2-year-old daughter would take her spot near the big window in our living room.

“Out – sigh? Out – sigh?” (Her version of the word “outside” – no “d”)

Her face pressed against the glass she would perch on the radiator and chant her request. Her open hands, slapping against the pane.

And sure enough, within the next half-hour – as if she had called him herself – her dad would come in the door from work. We’d pack up bikes or roller blades and jogging stroller and head to Prospect Park.

It was a predictable routine.

For my daughter, the afternoon light and dad coming home was connected with heading outside and moving.

And through the years – even through the addition of a second child, 6 moves in 4 years, a move from city to country, and many job changes – fitness has stuck with us.

While some of it has been just spontaneous, the biggest reason we’ve been able to hold onto fitness in our family life is that we make it part of our daily routine.

healthy habits 300x217 How To Build An Exercise Routine Into Your Family Life

Certainly, our routine has changed over the years. But by carving it into stone as part of our life, it’s stayed firmly there.

Because when you make exercise part of your routine you’re more likely to do it.

  • You don’t waste time debating if you’re up for it or if the stars are aligned right.  You just do it.
  • You don’t have to worry about complicated plans and logistics. Instead you develop shortcuts and ways to segue more smoothly into fitness.
  • You don’t lose your fitness time in a flurry of social obligations, meetings, work commitments and other distractions. You plan around it so you always have time for it.

Like I said, you just do it. And the more you do it – the easier it becomes.

When it comes to exercising with your children, establishing a routine means you don’t have to convince them to do it or entice them each time.

It just becomes what you do – like brushing your teeth. True, I still hound my 12-year-old about brushing his teeth properly but he does it and the resistance is low.

Similarly, my children didn’t always like going on bike rides but they put up only feeble protests because it was such an indelible part of our week.

And adults take note – we’re not so different.  When it comes to exercise if you feel there’s room to debate whether to do it or not, the debate can take over and ultimately steal the momentum. I square off with this anti-exercise ogre all the time!

If you nix the debate from the start by making it an unquestionable part of your day or week, you’ll make it easier on both you and your children in adjusting to it and getting into it.

So if you’re going to make family fitness – or any fitness work – the most essential strategy is to build an exercise routine.

Last week I urged you to use the end of summer to make family fitness part of your routine before school starts. Here you’ll get some ideas of how.

Build An Exercise Routine Into Your Morning

Exercise in the morning is better than coffee in my book for getting the day going. It charges you up and gets the blood flowing. If your mind is still clinging to dreamland, it will wake you up. Best of all, it sets your calorie burn on high for the rest of the day.

When the two little ruffians were small, we developed a great routine of doing some kid’s yoga and quiet listening every morning. It was so much easier to move into reading and school work after doing something physical.

This summer my son started doing hill sprints every morning and we’ll see what happens as the year progresses. Last year he and his dad practiced a little basketball or tossed the football until the bus came.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. Like with everything I advise about fitness – do something small rather than nothing at all. The little bits add up. Just a little activity to start off can transform your day.

Make Exercise Part Of Your Midday Breaks

The beautiful thing about midday exercising is that it recharges the day. When the kids were little I liked doing a little running around before lunch since it shifted our mood out of schoolwork. Just as we were about to bite each others’ heads off, our midday break would arrive.

Tag . . .  Mother May I . . . Red Light Green Light . . . badminton . . .  soccer . . . or just doing flippies, handstands and climbing me or the nearest tree allowed them to get all that pent up energy out. By the time we came in for lunch, they were ready to settle down and eat.

It also made it much easier to ease them into naptime after lunch (mother’s dream!)

These days, the kids are in school. But I still use exercise in the middle of the day to help me get through the tedious work at the computer. Sometimes my husband and I go on a 45-minute bike ride. Sometimes it’s just some kickboxing on jumping rope in the driveway. But this kind of exercise keeps me focused and alert.

Use Exercise During Homework Time After School To Stay Focused

Last year I did an experiment drawing from how I’ve discovered fitting fitness into my workday helps me concentrate.

My son was having such a difficult time sitting still and getting his homework done. So I used exercise breaks as an incentive. Once he came in the door, he had to move swiftly to getting a snack and settling into homework. But if he worked attentively for half an hour. I gave him a 5-10 minute break to go shoot hoops outside.

Then he came inside and did another half hour with another break as a reward.

We used the egg timer to keep him focused and to keep a structure on the timing. But it helped him get more done in less time.

The incentive picked up as the days grew shorter and he knew he had less time to play outside if he didn’t focus and get his work done.

While for him it worked better to move him swiftly to homework so the tone of getting work done early was set, some kids do well by getting 15 minutes of running around before homework time.  Try these different schedules and see what works.

Recharge And Reconnect Before Dinner By Getting Active Together

Even when my husband had had a full day of hard carpentry work, he’d still fit in a family bike ride most days after work. And in fact, he’ll vouch that this helped him get a little more energy to focus on being home and dispel some of the stress and negative energy from work.

Doing some form of family activity together before dinner makes it easier to transition back to home life – even if you work at home!

Now that I write from home, I still enjoy getting outside most afternoons to play some soccer or basketball. It helps me firmly shut the office door in my head for a few hours while I shift my attention to my family. Plus, as the resident cook, it helps me muster up the energy to get dinner put together when all I want to do is sit down and watch the news on TV.

When the weather doesn’t cooperate, put on some good dance tunes and dance up a storm for 15 minutes.

In the winter, we often get a gym membership for a few months and we’ll eat at an odd schedule to accommodate it. On the days when we head to the gym, the kids have a substantial “snack” -almost-dinner when they get home. We’ll head for the gym,  swim and play basketball, and then come home and eat a lighter meal before they go off to bed.

Fit A Little Activity In After Dinner To Get The Last Bits Of Squirminess Out

Careful with trying to do too much activity after dinner since the same energizing force of exercise can be turned against you. Getting your children into bed may become impossible!

But if you eat early enough, this is another window of time to get active.  An after dinner walk or a riotous game of tickle monster may help everyone get the last vestiges of that impulse to move out of their system.

Just make sure you leave about a 1-2 hour window before bedtime to make sure your children can go to sleep easily.

No Matter What – Build An Exercise Plan Into Your Weekends

As my children have gotten older, with soccer and track schedules taking over, it’s been harder to make time for family fitness during the week. I integrate fitness into my work day. But we don’t do as much together as we used to. (This is one of the reasons I don’t advocate starting team sports until your children are older!)

So the weekends have become an even more important part of our family fitness schedule.

Saturday and Sunday mornings we bike or practice jiu jitsu and kickboxing. In the winter, Sunday mornings we’re out the door with the school ski/snowboard program.

It’s never a question of whether we’ll do some family activity over the weekend – it’s more of a question of which activity.

And don’t discount doing big weekend chores as a form of fitness. Nothing better than burning calories and seeing tangible results from your hard work. For children this can be an invaluable way to develop a sense of pride and self-respect. Most Saturdays we also put a good 1-3 hours into doing a thorough house cleanup.

When you give kids chores they thrive.

If fitting family fitness into your week seems too much of a challenge, make the weekends absolute. Weekend should be a time when together as a family you regroup and reconnect after a busy week. If you use family fitness as part of this mix, you’ll discover it provides incredibly strong glue.

Isn’t It Easier?!

Newness has its place. And I love exploring new places and trying new things with my kids. But there is nothing more delicious for harried parents and kids seeking comfort than routine. No need to figure things out. No unknowns. Sure things.

Our body is tuned to what’s coming. Our mind at some level is prepared (even if we swear we can’t take the thought of moving!)

When you build family exercise into your routine, at some level you’ve made a decision and committed to it. Watch how things fall into place after this!

Got some family fitness routine ideas that have worked for your family? Or questions? Please share below!

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the nice post! It really motivated me.

  • Sarah Clachar

    Jessica, so glad it hit home and got you excited about making family fitness part of your family life.

  • Evelyn Taylor

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I am trying to get into a more consistent routine with working out with my jogging stroller!


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