A father and his son leave the gym after playing basketball. The dad carries his son's backpack, while the son carries a basketball.

How to prioritize being active as a family even when life’s too busy

Life with kids is busy! As a mother of four, from toddler to teen, I know how chaotic the days and weeks can be. From work to school to extracurriculars, juggling everyone’s schedule and keeping those balls flying instead of falling can be a herculean task, and I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Most parents I’ve spoken to feel the same way. However, despite our busy schedule I’ve discovered one secret to keeping everyone’s mental health and well-being in check that I want to share with you.

The secret is this: Make time for being active as a family.

Building in active family time into a busy schedule is more than worth it; it’s a must do! Here are the benefits of active family time along with helpful tips for fitting activity into your busy weekly schedule.

The benefits of being active as a family

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend that children between the ages of five to 17 get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Kids can meet these guidelines through a combination of structured and unstructured activities like physical education class at school, extracurricular sports, and outdoor activity. The reality, however, is that only 28% of children and youth [PDF] are meeting the Canadian movement guidelines. While that statistic can feel depressing, the wonderful thing is that we parents and caregivers can make a big difference in helping our kids (and all family members) be more active through intentional active family time. 

Active parents equals active kids

It’s no secret that parents and caregivers are the biggest #influencers in our kids’ lives, whether our kids want to admit it or not. When we model a certain type of behaviour, our kids are more likely to follow our lead. This is true with being physically active as well. If a parent spends 20 minutes being active during the day, it adds five to 10 minutes of daily physical activity for their child as well. The more steps parents take each day, the more steps kids take too! 

I’ve seen this reality play out with my own kids. If I carve out time for a brisk walk or an online fitness class, my kids make a move towards being active as well. Often they’ll join me in the activity I’m doing; however, I have yet to convince them to join me for my online dance workouts.

If you’re an active parent, chances are you’ve seen how modelling physical activity impacts your own kids. However, if you struggle with being active, know that you aren’t alone. One of the first steps is figuring out what kind of active parent you want to be. Hop over to this article to discover your active parenting style.

Active families build stronger bonds

“A family that plays together stays together” is a pithy saying that makes a lot of sense. Spending time doing fun activities together creates opportunities for connection and bonding. This is one of the big reasons that I prioritize active family time into our already busy weekly schedule. 

Active family time gives our family the opportunity to spend enough time together without distractions (no phones allowed!) or added pressure (there are no performance measures). Most of the time my kids don’t even realize they’re being physically active because we’re caught up in playing, exploring, and spending quality time together. Not surprisingly, some of our favourite family memories have taken place during active family time: hiking on a woodland trail, sheltering from an unexpected storm, or stopping for lunch at a Nordic ski hut. 

Active family time promotes healthy habits

From eating meals to brushing their teeth, helping our kids build healthy habits and make healthy choices starts at home. That’s why being active as a family is so important. When our kids have regular active family time they learn that being active is important for their bodies and minds. 

Active family time also teaches our kids how important it is to be “active for life.” Being physically active doesn’t stop when our kids become teens, or our teens become adults. Seeing Mom, Dad, or their caregiver stay physically active throughout their adult years will show them that active living is important throughout every stage of life. 

Fitting active family time into your busy schedule 

With so much on the go, spending time being active together can fall to the bottom of the to-do list, or not make it on the list at all! The first step to fitting active family time into your schedule is by making it a priority. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prioritized scrolling social media, catching up on household chores, or doing some other “important” tasks instead of being active with my kids. The truth is prioritizing active family time takes intention and planning.

Here are some strategies that I’ve found work well for making it happen: 

Schedule it in

Start by looking at your family’s weekly schedule and noting pockets of free time throughout the week when your family could be active together. You might be surprised to find there are more opportunities than you think—wonderful! If there aren’t any, consider dropping or rearranging activities to make room for at least one block of active family time each week.

When it comes to how long you should spend being active together, I suggest starting with at least 30 to 60 minutes. Of course, the length of time will depend on the age of your children, the weather, and the type of activity you choose to do together.  

If scheduling in active family time feels like just another thing to do, try thinking of this time as an opportunity for connection and fun, something us busy parents and children are desperately in need of.  

Choose activities you can do together

One tip for maximizing opportunities for active family time is to pick sports and activities that you can do with your children. Activities like going for a walk, strolling through nature, or biking to the park can be done by the whole family. Here’s a list of my favourite sports and activities that are great for active family time:   

Join in on the fun

If your kids are signed up for extracurricular sports and activities, try joining in on the fun. Whether you do the activity alongside them or help with coaching, find ways of being physically active with your child. 

When my kids were younger, we only signed up for activities that we could do together. Things like hiking, biking, skiing, swimming, and rock-climbing were our go-to sports. However, as my kids have grown, they’ve wanted to try other sports. Currently, I have a teen in Olympic weightlifting, a tween in dance, and another child in bouldering. Almost every one of our weekday evenings is booked with classes and training. The secret to making these evenings less of a chore is that we join our kids as much as possible. My husband boulders with my son, I go weightlifting with my teen, and I’ve even tried a few adult dance classes. 

Trying new things with our kids is a great way to model active living. And who knows, you might discover that you really enjoy some of the same activities your child is drawn to! This can be an opportunity for finding common ground and connection in your family life as they get older.  

Keep it fun and social

Active family time is supposed to be fun and social. Ask your kids to give their input into what kind of activities they’d like to do as a family. Buy-in can be really helpful, especially if active family time is something new for your family or you have older kids and teens. 

Another tip is to invite another family along. This is a great strategy if your kids balk at the idea of active family time. I’m always amazed by how much more enthusiastic and active my kids will be when their friends are with them. They will hike further, bike longer, or ski until the last run without even noticing how much time has passed. Truth be told, I’m the same way.

Bringing it all together

Making time to be active together as a family is a powerful way to encourage healthy living through regular physical activity that also promotes connection, quality family time and playfulness. If you have any other ideas, suggestions, or stories to share that will help other busy families prioritize active family time in their week please feel free to leave a comment in the section below. 

Read more about getting active as a family:

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