A blog by runners. For runners.

Five fun fitness ideas to get your kids moving

exercise ideas for kids

As a mom, my main goal in life is to raise my child well. I want my son to live a long, healthy life. And sadly, there is something scary out there threatening all our nation's youth: childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, and today, close to one in every three American children is overweight or obese.

Overweight kids are at risk for a lot of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea, low self-esteem, and social discrimination. What's more, overweight children are more likely to become obese adults, when they'll be at risk for even more medical issues.

Like other parents, I fear my son will one day fall victim to this epidemic. Nowadays, kids are moving less and eating more than ever, so protecting our children is an uphill battle.

I hope my son inherits my passion for health and fitness. But I can do more than hope. I can set a good example by running regularly and showing him that exercise is enjoyable.

Here are five great activities for children. It will get them moving and show them that fitness is fun:

  1. Take active family outings. Not every kid is destined to be a star athlete, or even play sports. But exercise is not the same as sports — it doesn't follow any set rules. Anything that gets your heart pumping and body moving counts as exercise. So, instead of going to the movies with your family this weekend, do something active together. Go on a day hike, take a bike ride, sightsee a new town or city by foot, hit up the ice skating rink, or play a round of mini-golf.
  2. Host active parties. Rather than lounging around and watching a game, participate in a game as part of your party. Have swimming relays if you have a pool, set up a volleyball net for a match, or arrange a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt.
  3. Have a daily contest. What kid doesn't like competing with mom or dad? Have a contest with your child and see who can jump rope longer, throw a ball further, run across the yard faster, or jump higher.
  4. Try 'exergaming.' Despite parents' best efforts, it can be near impossible to pry controllers out of little video game-loving hands. With “exergaming” or active video games, you and your child both win. This type of video game requires the user to move his or her body — and in some cases, work up an intense sweat — to play. Try exergaming and watch your child take up skiing, tennis, or dancing in your own living room.
  5. Train for a race together. Look closely at the details of the races you run. Many of them have “tot trot” or “fun run” options for the youngest runners. Older kids may be able to run/walk a 5k with you. Train together and make a big deal when your little one crosses the finish line!

How do you help your kids get active? Growing up, my mom always had music playing and encouraged us to dance while we were doing chores.

Written by Jenilee Matz, MPH. Pictured above is her son. Jen is writer, runner, and new(ish) mom living in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C.

Related: Tips to fit in fitness when traveling with kids | Jogging stroller safety and comfort