I am sure many of us have watched with amusement (and possibly inspiration) at video clips of parents working out using their babies as weights. My husband tried it several times when both our girls were little – carrying them to do squats, bicep curls and bench presses. “Staying fit as a family!” My husband would quip. For all its entertainment value, it was a great way for my husband to bond with the kids. Of course, fitness in that case was only one way, given that the kids did not need to exert any energy at all!
With our sedentary urban lifestyles and the increased amount of time spent on devices, physical activity is definitely something we need to consciously make time for. We all know the physical, emotional and mental benefits of exercise and being outdoors. It is common for members of a household to work out individually – parents at the gym, children being involved with physical activities at school or extra-curricular classes in the weekends where parents sit on the sidelines and cheer. However, there are great benefits for a family that work out together. It is a good way for families to bond and spend quality time together, get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, establish teamwork and a greater appreciation for each other.
Growing up, our parents would bring us for a swim every weekend. We would also occasionally go to the local park for a walk or jog. I was interested to find out how different families choose to stay fit together, so I went on a mission to speak with some friends. I was greatly inspired by the variety of ideas that came back.
Here are some ideas you could try with your family:
1. Be involved as a family
Terence and Charlotte have 4 children, ranging from late teens to early 20s. As a couple, Terence and Charlotte always believe in trying new things together, be it learning tennis, rock climbing or scuba diving. They have passed this passion for discovering new skills on to their children, who are active in many different outdoor pursuits.
When their children were in primary school, Terence and Charlotte sent them to swim and tennis lessons in the weekends. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, this couple joined in the sports. While their older children had swim lessons, they would swim on the outer lane with the younger ones. When the children had tennis lessons, Terence and Charlotte would also play tennis in the adjoining court.
“We wanted to encourage our children by letting them know we are always there for them. It was a way for us to keep an eye on their progress, and to stay fit as a family at the same time, ” says Charlotte.
As an incentive for their O’ Level exams, Terence and Charlotte would sponsor diving courses for their children. Diving became a shared family interest over the years, even for the older ones who have left home.
2. Find something fun for everyone
Alfred and Esther have two boys, aged 10 and 12. They do not have a fixed routine every week, but make time to do fun outdoor activities during their free time. They have brought their boys trekking, camping by the beach, cycling and going on the Segway. Sometimes, while the boys scoot or roller blade, Alfred and Esther would walk or jog alongside them. “The time allows us to spend more time talking and playing together. For the boys, it’s good to strengthen their bond as it builds good memories,” says Esther.
15 year old Elisa concurs with the idea that activities as a family should be fun. “It is important to do activities that allow for a range of abilities, like hiking or rock climbing. That way, it is fun for everybody, including the little ones,” Elisa recommends.
Some families I spoke with went the extra mile of joining a sport together. The Thong family takes Tae Kwon Do lessons together. Megan and her 5 children in New Zealand are part of Waka Ama, a “paddle” sport in a canoe with six people. She love the commitment factor and team work it takes to race a waka, and they have made many friends through this sport. In fact, it was Megan’s son who first tried out the sport, and the rest of the family joined in later!
3. Be creative in affordable ways
Staying fit together does not need to be expensive. Friends with young children say they would put on music and have a dance session with their kids in the lounge. Other budget friendly ideas include working out together using free exercise machines in the park, walking somewhere instead of taking the car, playing ball games in a field or neighbourhood court, and working out to YouTube exercise videos together.
Staying fit as a family certainly has its benefits and there are many different ways of doing it, as outlined above. I have to admit that this is a journey for my family, as we are still exploring what we can do together that is enjoyable for all. I think the key is to make time and try a variety of things. At the end of the day, it’s the journey and process that matters, as the time spent together will help bond us as a family – with fitness being a bonus!
About the Author: Jess Chan is married and has two school aged daughters. Aside from being full-time “minister of home affairs” and “transport minister” to her little family, she also serves as the Field Administrator for World Outreach International, a Christian mission organisation that has a presence in 70 countries. Jess and her family moved back to Malaysia in 2017, after spending 10 years in New Zealand and 6 years in Thailand.