Incorporating exercise into your family’s daily routine is key to promoting a healthy lifestyle and creating spaces for wholesome family activities (unless Dad cheats at backyard cricket).

No matter how old you are, fitness is a fundamental aspect of your overall health. The key to making it happen as a family lies in understanding that exercise can – and must – be fun.

Exercising or getting physically active as a family also has the benefits of a built-in support system that keeps everybody motivated and accountable. When you schedule it into the daily or weekly routine, it quickly becomes a normal part of family life, instead of a chore that gets done every once in a while.

Idea for family exercise

“Where parents are able to, they should ideally include their children in some kind of exercise programme on the weekend,” says Dr Melanie Dance, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Sandton. “You see examples of parents riding their bicycles, pulling a baby along at the back, and then there’s another baby in the front in a carrier. Or you could go for walks in the park, or take the dog for a walk, or go feed the ducks. There are plenty of opportunities for activities in the green spaces that are available.”

Dr Dance’s suggestions underline the importance of identifying age-appropriate activities. This is fundamental to establishing a family fitness routine that’s both fun and easy to maintain. Over the years those walks in the park could shift to more traditional forms of exercise, like training together for a 5K race or Park Run, or going for a day hike.

“As they get older, children should be encouraged to undertake some kind of activity,” says Dr Dance. “Whether they’re a sporty kid and they can play a sport at school, or whether they’re not a sporty kid and they take part in music or drama or another kind of activity. As long as it’s not screen-based! Screens are a huge problem.”

Fitting exercise into the family calendar

How much exercise is enough? According to the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation: “If you’re inactive, doing anything is better than nothing! If you want to exceed a moderate level of fitness, you need to exercise at least five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes.”

Given that recommended timeframe, families might consider short activities like family playtime during the week (for example, kicking a ball around in the garden or park); with slightly longer activities (say, a short hike or run) on weekends.

And remember, “exercise” doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. It could be anything from gardening to playtime to dance parties to more structured games. As long as the whole family is participating – and the whole family is active – you’re onto a winning formula.

The healthy habits created by these activities will set the children up for a lifetime of good health… and the benefits for parents cannot be ignored, either. As the Heart and Stroke Foundation points out, “Studies show that those who have a low fitness level are much more likely to die early than people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness.”