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3 simple outdoor activities that encourage family fitness

In an era where more and more families are getting their exercise from video gaming systems, it is more important than ever to encourage outdoor family fitness. Yes, any exercise – even “plugged in” exercise – is better than no exercise, but with a generation of kids spending less time then ever outside, we need to remind our children that fitness and fun are possible without a TV screen and a video game controller.

Getting outdoors to exercise gives kids a chance to unplug from the television and air conditioning and get out into the fresh air and sunshine. Finding outdoor games to play that encourage family fitness gives Mom and Dad the perfect excuse to revisit some of their childhood favorite games, too.

Some of our family’s favorite activities that combine exercise with the outdoors include hula hooping, playing tag, and jumping games.

Hula Hooping

Photo by Adam Baker

Hula hooping or “hooping” is coming back, in a big way! First Lady Michelle Obama has been seen hooping to promote awareness about the benefits of exercise. Hula Hoop groups, or tribes, are popping up all over and gathering together to “hoop it up.” There is even a World Hoop Day (this year’s date is October 10, 2010).

I’m sure my kids will tell you there isn’t a much funnier sight than Mom’s first attempts at hooping. In addition to being able to laugh together, our family has found that hooping is a vehicle to encourage each other and to compete in a healthy way as we build our skills and practice and work on our posture, too.

It is also an exercise that almost anyone can do, regardless of size or age (my four-year-old and eight-year-old kids are better than I am, in fact!).  The key is using a hoop that is the correct size for you. And making your own hoop is a fun activity that allows family members to give their own personal flare to their hoops.


A popular playground game among children that parents should join in on, too. We love playing tag! To keep things fair and fun, we impose the rule of the “butterfly” tag – meaning that the tag has to be with a light hand, not a smack or a shove.

A versatile game, tag and all of its variations can be adapted to your group’s size, ability, and age ranges. Most versions of tag don’t require any special equipment, just a wide open space for running.

Our family enjoys Freeze Tag, Flashlight Tag, and we have found Duck, Duck, Goose to be a suitable variation for younger children.  Invent your own family rules for tag – the tagged person has to do five jumping jacks before they can come back in, for example.

A hearty game of tag, with its running, bending, ducking, turning is a good way to get your heart rate up and burn off some calories in a fun, healthy way.

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Jumping Games

While you are running through your backyard playing tag, you might consider adding some jumping and hopping games, as well, to get your family’s pulses racing.

We enjoy hopscotch, which requires only simple sidewalk chalk, a stone or beanbag to toss, and an outdoor space to draw your grid onto.

You can also create a jumping game that encourages learning by randomly drawing letters of the alphabet, colored squares, or shapes all over your driveway. Mom or Dad calls out the goal (“a red triangle”) and the kids must hop or run to that place.

Other activities that encourage getting outdoors and family fitness:

  • hiking
  • geocaching
  • gardening
  • running
  • walking
  • swimming
  • bike riding
  • roller-blading
  • jumping rope

Getting outdoors for family fitness is simpler than you think. In fact, it can be as simple as taking a walk together. The benefits of getting outdoors, having fun together, and encouraging family fitness just can’t be replicated with a video game system.

Get outside! Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and have fun getting fit together!

How do you encourage outdoor family fitness with your kids?

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  1. Melodie

    A friend of mine who my girls call Auntie comes over a lot and when she comes she alwasy brings her hula hoops. She started hula hooping in May and is so good now it blows my mind! She does it for cardio for like 30-45 minutes a day non-stop! Anyway, my kids love to imitate her and already at 3 and 5 are getting pretty good! It’s great fun!

    • Kara Fleck

      Oh, Melodie, it is SO much fun! I won’t be winning any contests any time soon (and my nightmare is that someone puts a video of me hooping on youTube LOL) but I have gotten better in just a few months. My kids are terrific at it and it is nice to have fun, get some exercise, and giggle a bit together 🙂

      I admire your friend who can hoop for 45 min a day non-stop. That’s awesome!

  2. Catherine

    I think in my case it might be more like how do I stop them running around when we get outdoors! Our favourites are the trampoline, bike riding, walking and swimming.

    • Kara Fleck

      bike riding, walking, and swimming are favorites here, too … a trampoline sounds fun and like a great way to get some exercise and burn off some extra kiddo energy, too 🙂

  3. Sarah Clachar

    I’m so glad to see this – esp. the intro. The Wii gives such false comfort that you’re getting enough activity in.

    I’ve also had to struggle with the hula hoop while my kids blithely gyrate nearby – still haven’t mastered it.

    We also love jumprope. We do doubles, trick jumping and I use the jumprope by myself for a quick 10 minute aerobic break when writing. Chinese jumprope is also a great jump game and easy to make with sewing elastic – not much space needed either.
    Rules for Chinese jumprope here:

    For tag and other running games, I highly recommend parents wear cleats. With our bigger bodies and usually less flexibility, the short turns can lead to long unexpected splits or other stretches and injuries. My husband and I swear by our football cleats (ankle support too!)

    Badminton is also a great outdoor game – lots of time with birdie in the air to let beginners get a good return – lots of fun to play as doubles. (And you don’t really need a net set up – just bat it back and forth.

    I’m slowly adding more family outdoor fun and fitness ideas on my website, Come visit!

  4. Sarah Clachar


    So glad to see this, esp. intro since Wii offers such false confidence that you’re getting in activity.

    I’m also a beginner hula hooper (while my kids blithely gyrate around me!)
    We also love jumprope and Chinese jumprope – doesn’t need a lot of space to get some good aerobics and fun!

    For tag and other running games, I swear by wearing football cleats. With our bigger bodies and less flexibility, it’s easy to get an injury. These cleats give you better footing and ankle protection.

    Badminton is another favorite – great for all ages and you don’t even need a net!

    Outdoor family activity is an excellent way to build family bonds AND let off steam!

    • Kara Fleck

      Oh, badminton! I used to love that as a kid 🙂 Thanks for the reminder, Sarah!

      I agree with you, too about getting outdoors to build family bonds and to let off some steam, too.

  5. Alison @

    If your kids are old enough, try frisbee games. There are a lot of different flying disc games around, just search the internet for some inspiration. It’s something you can do anywhere – beach, garden or park – and I promise you it can get pretty intense!

  6. Kara

    I think you named just about everything from my childhood! I still enjoy hula hooping too.

    I’d add, for the winter months, sledding. Running up a hill, in snow, over and over just to sled down is great exercise. Not to mention it’s a lot of fun. 🙂

  7. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    Right now with our baby we like to go walking. Of course it’s 100 degrees outside (literally) so we haven’t been doing much of that these days. But once it cools down a bit, we’ll resume our daily walks around the neighborhood.

  8. Sara

    I can’t keep mine in, except for meals and lego building! We have been enjoying the warm weather together as a family doing many activities including working on next winter’s firewood stash, berry picking and swimming.

  9. annemarie

    Skipping! Skipping! I spend hours and hours and HOURS skipping. Every recess and lunch hour. I knew five billion rhymes, could skip to 500, did pepper (as fast as I could) until I couldn’t breathe, and even tied my long rope to the deck for my little sister to swing for me.

    Fyi: a skipping rope made of actual rope is totally better than a plastic one.

  10. Suzanne

    Fun tips. We try to get outside a lot in the summer, but sometimes it’s difficult to come up with fresh ideas on what to do. Some of the ‘oldies but goodies’ like tag or hula hoop sound like a great idea today!

  11. Anitra

    Any suggestions for a mom who gets winded in about 5 minutes but wants her very young kid(s) to be active? I HATED playing tag growing up because I was so slow and out of breath that I would get tagged and then not be able to catch anyone else. I want my kids to be in better shape than I am.

    My toddler loves to go outside, but then she’ll just sit in one spot, looking at rocks or flowers. It seems like the only way to get her moving is to be the one who starts – but then I get tired out and she will try to drag me to keep going.

  12. Ivy

    I’ve been trying to learn to hula hoop since I was 4. I’m now somewhere in the late 20s an still cannot do it!

    Great post and advice!! If the heat would subside for just an hour, we could outside for more than five minutes without fearing heat stroke. Lol. Or we could just try to do some of these under a sprinkler… 🙂

  13. Reiki Music

    I love simple games like these. Actually, don’t tell anyone, but I love playing these games, like tag and hopscotch. My favorite as a kid was TV Freeze Tag.

  14. Kika

    We also appreciate the outdoor basketball hoops/courts around our town.

    The fact that October 11 is World Hoop Day made me chuckle. I envision people hooping it up outside for the most part but by that time of year, my region of the world can be pretty snowy and cold;)

  15. Anne

    Our family are big believers in getting outside for exercise as well. We are mainly hiking and having a lot of free play. This year we are adding hopscotch and jump roping. Hula hoop is a good idea as well, although I’m not sure how the boys will take to it. I really hope that this movement toward more simplistic family time and childhood continues growing!

  16. Michele

    My kids love soccer. All three play in a league, two of them twice per week, the youngest once per week. I also love soccer. I have grown from SoccerMom to coach to player. We try to challenge each other with freestyle skills. I couldn’t stop my kids if I’d wanted to when there’s a ball around! If I can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em!

  17. Tina@RideOnToys

    Geocaching seems like such a cool concept and fun for the entire family no matter what the age. My family loves the electronic world so fun and exercise with a GPS system will right up their alley!

    • Craig

      Note that if you have an iPhone you don’t need anything else to go geocaching other than the Geocaching app…$10 from the app store.

  18. Cori@Alternative Health Product

    There’s a park near our home where my kids and I love to go walking: they particularly ask to go there because there are areas in the park where they can climb with ropes, ladder… On weekends, we all go to the beach to swim. When on holidays, the entire family goes hiking.

  19. Craig

    If you have a dog, take it for a walk with the kids. Exercise for everyone (including the dog) and more fun for the kids than just walking.

  20. Jeff

    Great post with great ideas! Let’s see if we can start a revolution among parents to unplug our kids from their devices and plug them in to fitness – at least an hour a day. It’s happening all over the web right now.

  21. Dianna

    Looking for a way for kids to pass time other than watching television, reading a book, or playing on the computer? Children tend to tire easily with these activities and as a parent when boredom sets in what do you do? What are your options? How do you keep boredom at bay? The perfect idea is to send them outside to play this way they are getting fresh air and exercise and one fantastic toy is the swing set with climbing activities and slides. This might be the perfect solution and imagine the smiles on the childrens faces as they have a grand time outdoors. The idea of swing sets is not new as they have been around for decades. What is new is the structures today are built like nothing of years past. Not only do they have updated features they now bigger and better and stronger than ever.

  22. Losing Weight Quickly

    We have a five year old and a 13 month old and we have been taking daily trips around the block for the past month or so. My 5 year old rides his bike or scooter, my wife rides her bike, and I walk/run and push my 13 month old around in his stroller. We have a great time and I think we are building good exercising habits in our boys as they grow up.

  23. Lisa

    Very Motivational! It’s hard to find the time and place to get the entire family involved! Great Post! 🙂

  24. Debi

    I definitely agree – It makes me quite frustrated seeing kids sitting playing computer games for hours on end.

  25. kodinz

    Agree that kids nowadays spent more time on television or computer. For me, to encourage my son to play outside, I’ll just just take him to the nearest field with a ball. Then just let him play.

  26. Steven Bancroft

    Excellent article topic and list of outdoor family activities to stay active. I grew up doing all the activities you listed except for hula hooping. We played tag for hours. Another good activity is hide and seek in a large area. Lots of movement and it’s a ton of fun.

    Taking kids hiking when they’re young and inspiring a love of the outdoors is very smart. It also fosters attention to being active hoping a love of being active will remain into adulthood.

    I don’t want to neglect the benefits of playing such activities with kids outdoors to parents. Often parents become the sedentary people in a family and this way the whole family stays active and has fun.

  27. Debbie

    Geocaching looks fun I should try it..

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