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?