Every year since 2010, people in the U.S. have participated in National Exercise With Your Child Week during the first full calendar week in the month of August. The week was founded by Shiela Madison to promote family physical fitness.
This year, working out as a family is more likely in years past. With most of the country still under some sort of reduced activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, families have more time at home with one another. One of the best ways to fill the long days of summer is with exercise. And when you exercise with your family, it’s more fun.
It’s also a great chance to bond, create new rituals, and make some hilarious memories that might turn into stories you tell for years to come.
But what kind of exercise should you do as a family?
That answer is easy: you should do all kinds of exercise as a family.
Appropriate Exercise/Workouts by Age Group
Okay, you probably get the idea that doing anything fun and active counts as exercising with your family. But how much activity do you need to do to get the real benefits of exercise, which include improved overall health, reduced stress and – when you exercise with your family – an increased sense of connectedness?
We’ll start with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on the appropriate amount of exercise for children and adolescents. Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- Preschool age (3-5). Preschool age kids should be active throughout the day, every day. During Exercise With Your Children Week, parents should get down on the floor – or on the grass out in the yard – and play whatever active game they can get their kids to play. Stay engaged as long as possible, and take plenty of breaks for water and snacks.
- School age (6-17). Kids age 6-17 should get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. They should do aerobic activities like running or cycling three days a week, activities that strengthen bones three days a week, and activities that strengthen muscles at least three days a week. Don’t worry – this does not add up to nine days a week – mix, match, and overlap activities to meet the required recommendations.
You may wonder exactly what we mean by aerobic activity, activities that strengthen bones, and activities that strengthen muscles. Here’s how the CDC define those types of activity:
- Aerobic activity includes anything that conditions your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, lungs, veins, and arteries. Common aerobic activities appropriate for people of all ages include running, swimming, cycling, and walking. If your heart rate increases to a level you can sustain for around twenty minutes or longer, you’re doing an aerobic activity.
- Muscle strengthening activity includes anything that puts direct stress on specific muscles or groups of muscles. It typically differs from aerobic activity in intensity and duration. Common muscle strengthening exercises appropriate for people of all ages include pushups, situps, planks, and squats. Any type of weight training, whether with free weights or weight machines or kettlebells, is also considered muscle-strengthening activities. Weight training is appropriate for adolescents and adults, but not children age 12 and under. Adolescents who train with weight should be supervised by adults.
- Bone strengthening activities include anything that involves minor impact, such as running and jumping. They also include exercises common to aerobic kickboxing classes such as punching or kicking a heavy bag or focus pad. For older adults, walking counts as a bone strengthening activity. Walking, running, and jumping are appropriate for people of all ages. Adults should teach proper technique and supervise any children participating in kickboxing-type activities.
Family exercise can include anything from going swimming to taking hikes to going on bike rides to trying out different types of classes at a gym. During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to follow local guidelines about group activity, but it’s also important to know that many gyms offer outdoor classes that require social distancing and appropriate use of facial coverings.
What About Intensity?
The CDC recommends an hour a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day. The easiest way to find out what level of intensity your exercise involves is to use a subjective scale of 1-10. On this scale, one is the easiest level of effort – think walking down the street at a slow speed. Ten is the hardest level of effort – think sprinting down the street as fast as you can. On this scale, moderate activity includes anything from a four to a seven. Vigorous activity includes anything from eight to ten.
When you exercise with your family, think of intensity this way. A bike ride can be both moderate and vigorous, in a short period of time and over a short distance. Riding down a flat road at a quick pace is a moderate-intensity activity. Riding up a hill at a quick pace is vigorous-intensity activity. Likewise, hiking along a flat trail is a moderate-intensity activity, whereas hiking or climbing up a steep hill can turn into a vigorous-intensity activity.
Now that you know this basic exercise information, you can make sure your family gets the recommended type, duration, and intensity of exercise recommended by the experts at the CDC. When you get out with your family during National Exercise With Your Child Week, change things up. Make it interesting. Have little races up hills. Walk quietly down a wooded trail. Your imagination is the only limit – and you can rest assured knowing that all that fun you’re having is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.