By Angela Pirisi
Whether you’re going on holiday or just staying put, summer’s long, warm days mean it’s easy to get the whole family moving while you share in some outdoor fun. Grown-ups can de-stress and get in shape, while kids relish the chance to do what they do best: play. And the added bonus? You’ll be fostering an active lifestyle in your kids while they’re too busy to notice. “What you do doesn’t really matter,” says Jane Schneiderman-Walker, a Toronto exercise physiologist at The Hospital for Sick Children. “What does matter is that you go out the front door and do something active as a family. To kids, the most important thing is fun and variety.” Here’s a week’s worth of activities you can easily pull off on in an evening or on a weekend afternoon. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to hear the words “I’m bored” again.
Why it’s so much fun: You can get the whole family on bikes (wearing helmets, bien sur!), with toddlers older than one year of age in a bike seat or a trailer. Pedalling takes you back to your days on a banana seat; you can cruise the neighbourhood for lemonade stands and garage sales, take in local nature and be back for bedtime.
Why it’s good for you: Cycling exercises your heart and lungs and strengthens and tones leg muscles.
Why it’s so much fun: It’s a walk that becomes an adventure, plus it’s a great way for kids to connect with the natural world around them by examining bugs and plants, listening to wildlife sounds or skipping rocks across a stream.
Why it’s so good for you: The faster and longer you go, the better cardiovascular workout you get. Plus, walking uphill can tone up muscles in the legs, back, stomach and butt.
Why it’s so much fun: Nothing cools you off on a balmy day like splashing in water. Help kids get into it with a relay race or sink some treasure that they can dive to the bottom to find. A wealth of pool toys can provide novelty for your littlest fish.
Why it’s so good for you: It’s a gentle exercise that’s unlikely to cause injuries. “And it offers the best overall workout, since it uses many more muscles than other sporting activities,” says Schneiderman-Walker.
Why it’s so much fun: It’s a cheap and very easy, transportable sport, since any grassy space can be your soccer field. Plus, kids get an opportunity to run around and to work as a team.
Why it’s so good for you: It increases strength, endurance and co-ordination. “Because you’re moving so much, it has a huge cardiovascular component,” says Schneiderman-Walker. As well, it builds leg strength and agility, thanks to the foot-to-eye co-ordination required.
FAMILY FOUR-ON-FOUR BASKETBALL
Why it’s so much fun: It’s a social activity that requires teamwork and prevents boredom because there’s lots of action: running, jumping, throwing and catching. Challenge your next-door neighbours to a friendly game and things could get downright rowdy.
Why it’s so good for you: It builds hand-to-eye co-ordination. Plus, lots of short spurts and the use of legs and arms make it a great upper- and lower-body workout that will get your heart pumping.
Why it’s so much fun: Tossing any kind of ball around appeals to all ages. And it’s challenging enough that learning to make a good catch or throw is satisfying as well as esteem building, says Schneiderman-Walker. Different sizes and shapes of balls keep this activity fun.
Why it’s so good for you: “Playing catch helps develop important skills like throwing, catching, running, concentration and hand-to-eye co-ordination”, says Schneiderman-Walker. Plus, it builds arm strength — and leg strength too, if you’re running to fetch the ball a lot.
Why it’s so much fun: This childhood game never loses its appeal. Throw in some fancy footwork — double dutch, turning around while jumping or hopping on one foot — and you’ll up the fun factor and help build co-ordination.
Why it’s so good for you: This high-impact activity helps to strengthen bones, since jumping places extra weight on your leg muscles. It also gives your heart a great workout.
Have a little more time? Try one of these:
Olympics in the backyard or park:
Introduce kids to some of your childhood favourites, such as a potato-sack race (old pillowcases will do), an egg relay or a water- balloon toss.
Amazing race around the city:
Draw or print out a map of the neighbourhood with some interesting pit-stops, and you’re set. Each parent can partner up with a kid or two and walk, cycle, run or blade to the finish line.
You can enjoy paddling around without having to plan a major camping trip. Check your city tourist office or local port authority to find nearby canoe rentals.
Beach-ball Volleyball or badminton:
You can find a net and everything else you’ll need for less than $20 in sporting-goods aisles. For little kids, throw out the rules and work on getting a good rally or volley going.
Wagon around the zoo:
Young children who poop out quickly will enjoy being chauffeured while they rest their little legs or snack. You’ll enjoy the quality time and a great workout from pulling them.
Angela Pirisi lives in Hamilton, Ont., and writes extensively about health, nutrition and fitness. Her three-year-old daughter has helped her revive old pastimes of hide-and-seek, tag and pillow fights.