How to make exercise a habit for the whole family

By Sarah Hughes

This past year has sent us all into enforced hibernation mode, hasn’t it!? With three young boys to homeschool, feed and generally keep alive; all whilst working myself, standards have certainly slipped in terms of getting them active. Since most families have been under similar stresses, it’s not surprising that across the UK, children’s activity levels have plummeted throughout 2020 and into early 2021.

But now the world is opening up again, I’m determined to drag them (and me!) away from screens and out into the fresh air. I’ve always felt very strongly that to encourage my kids to become active adults, I need to lead by example. I admit I’m lucky in the sense that my boys are naturally full of energy and have always enjoyed sport. But what if your kids are more inclined to spend this summer slumped on the sofa frantically pressing their X-Box controller?

What you mustn’t do is give up the faith! People who enjoy exercise usually weren’t born brimming with love for getting sweaty and breathless. Chances are; those people have just stumbled on a secret that lots of new exercisers don’t yet know. The secret itself isn’t groundbreaking. Here it is: Everyone (yes, even your reluctant pre-teen) can grow to love exercise… but only if you prioritise making it a part of your weekly routine and turn exercise into a habit.

How to make exercise a habit for the whole family

For exercise to be pleasurable, it needs to become a habit. Easier said than done though eh? How do we make a habit out of something which feels so difficult in the beginning? And how do we convince our kids that exercise is something they can incorporate into their daily lives?

Let’s look at some fail-safe tips to get the whole family more active this summer.

  • Start as you mean to go on. Research shows that structuring an exercise or activity schedule at the beginning, helps us stick to it long term. So get the daily together around the calendar and look at where you can carve out some time to get active and try to commit to those allotted times from the outset.
  • Find something that appeals to you all. In an ideal world, you’ll be like The Brady Bunch, all sitting around your kitchen table together agreeing on lots of healthy wholesome sporting activities to try as a family. But we all know the reality is likely to be far more fractious! Listen to what your kids fancy trying out and work with them to find ways to have a go at a new sport or activity. I promise that after 15 years in the fitness industry teaching adults and children; there really is something for everyone.
  • . The current trend towards online exercise means you can try out just about any class from the comfort of your own front room. If it’s hard to drag the kids away from screens or if finances are holding you back from trying new activities; YouTube has a wealth of great kid-friendly fitness and yoga sessions. Who doesn’t love a bit of ‘PE with Joe’?
  • Make sure your children know that being active is about being healthy, not about being thin. Weight loss can be a depressing topic even for adults so we definitely don’t want it to weigh on our children’s minds. To make your exercise habitual, use other markers. Focus on your cardiovascular fitness levels, how far can you run? How many lengths of the pool can you do today? Can you manage to get all the way through that Zumba class without stopping now? Look at positive progress every day.
  • Think about free activities which although great for our health, don’t really feel like exercise. Walking the dogs (in all weathers!), family bike rides, a weekly splash in the leisure centre pool, tennis in the local park or a Saturday morning kickabout with a football.
  • Ditch the ‘I’ll start on Monday’ mentality. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Fish and chips on Friday night, fry-up on Saturday morning and then a bottle of wine while lazing on the sofa on Saturday night. It’s so easy at that stage to say; “Well I’ve ruined it for the weekend now. I’m just going to eat whatever I fancy on Sunday and then start the diet on Monday.” This is where those habitual exercisers; you know, the ones who actually love it, have the upper hand. They know they’ll feel so much better if on Sunday they log on and do a YouTube workout, head to the beach for a brisk walk or get out for a bike ride. So if work or studying gets too hectic, family life too busy or you don’t feel well enough to exercise; that’s fine! You’re only human. Chalk that day up to experience and start again tomorrow (not next Monday!).

Remember that regular exercise, combined with good nutritious food is an investment in the health of your whole family. That doesn’t mean takeaways are forever off the menu! It doesn’t mean you can’t have an ice cream when you finish that beach power walk. Teach your kids that looking after their health long-term is all about balance… and balance can still be fun!

Sarah writes about all things happy and hopeful at

How to make exercise a habit for the whole family

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