How to Stay Active When You Have A Family

Lego Family

Staying active can feel like an uphill battle.

It seems like there’s always something getting in the way of your routine: an emergency at work, an impending deadline at school, a friend in town to visit, or the next quest in your favorite RPG that won’t stop calling your name.

It can be hard enough dodging all of life’s obstacles, but when you have a family it’s like playing the game of life on legendary difficulty. After all, it’s easy to feel guilty after spending all day away from your loved ones while working, and then asking for even MORE time away to focus on leveling up your life.

You might be wondering, is it possible to stay active, and healthy, AND spend tons of quality time with your family?

As a parent, staying active and being healthy isn’t just about you finding time to take care of business, but about cultivating a mindset and habits to keep the whole family on track. It’s about finding a way for you ALL to enjoy healthy habits.

Today we’re going to talk about how your family can spend some quality time together WHILE being active together.

Are you actually enjoying yourself?!

Running against the grain

We often think of exercise as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. When fitness is looked at as a chore, it’s a REALLY tough habit to build. Factor in a few kiddies, a loving husband/wife, and the inevitable unexpected surprises that comes with a family, and it’s easy how exercising gets moved to the bottom of the to-do list (right above “voluntary root canal).

So, we need to start with actually enjoying ourselves! It’s one more day above the roses, and that’s a damn good day to be alive, right?

When looking to find ways to stay active with your family, always start from a point of fun and work your way backwards. “What can I do that makes me happy and feel alive, and also happens to get my heart racing?”

That’s the theory behind the “playout”: exercise doesn’t have to feel like a chore. In fact, exercise can be damn fun. Especially when you get your kids involved! Think about it – kids get to roll around in the mud, climb on stuff, make up imaginary games (the ground is lava!), and they are having so much fun that they don’t realize they’re exhausted and breathing heavy and just had an awesome workout.

So, I hereby give you permission to act like a giant child.

  • Take your kids for a hike one afternoon, even if it’s into the woods in your back yard, and you pretend to be explorers. Ever read Bridge to Terabithia? You’d be surprised what kids can create with their imagination.
  • Create a game or contest with them. “The ground is lava,” “who can do the most cartwheels,” etc. Have fun with it! Just get outside and be active. It’s the PERFECT time of year.
  • Get dirty. Roll down hills. Jump in puddles. Climb trees. Just have some freaking fun with it – this is a chance to bond with your kids in a way that will both improve YOUR life AND their lives. Win-win, sucka!

Now, let’s say you still enjoy doing structured exercise, but maybe life is too busy now that you have kids…we’re gonna look to an 80s TV star for help.

MacGuyver it.

Family beach

With kids and families, every minute counts.

We all know that eating right is 80-90% of the battle, so that final 10% can come in any type of exercise you can fit in, whenever you can fit it in.

Things aren’t gonna go according to plan, and you’re not going to always have that perfect 60-minute window to get to the gym. So you need to become MacGuvyer, and ALWAYS have a plan B (and a plan C) for when things go wrong. It’s funny, but once you stop accepting and allowing yourself to use excuses as to why you’re not exercising, suddenly finding the time to get it done takes care of itself.

What’s that? You are busy from the time the kids wake up til the time they go to bed? Wake up just 5 minutes earlier, and try the PLP Challenge (using a door frame pull up bar) so you don’t even have to leave your bedroom!

Your turn to watch the kids? Create contests and “backyard olympics!” tinfoil medals (like in the Office). Then you can inspire your kids with great feats of strength: push ups with a kid on your back (or planks), hikes with a kid riding piggy back, whatever. Heck, you can even do pull ups while your kid is on the swingset, or teach your kids to do handstands!

Feeling crazy? Do pull ups with your kid on your back. Hey, if NF Rebel Bronwyn can do it, why not you someday?

Do something! I don’t care what you do, but it’s vital for you to do something. I’m trying to play more music, so my keyboard and guitar are RIGHT in the middle of my living room. Not surprisingly, I’m playing more music than I ever have in the past. 5 minutes is enough time to do some push ups, or squats, or hang out in a plank. Sure, you might get funny looks from the other parent, but wouldn’t you much rather be known as “that weird in shape parent that does push ups” than “the really overweight unhealthy parent”?

Exercise is not all or nothing. It’s not “I need 60 minutes or why bother.” It’s “do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.” You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Become MacGuyver, and exercise anytime, anywhere. Your offspring will thank you for instilling that habit in them!

My favorite response


Now, admittedly I don’t have any children (heck, I don’t even have an imaginary girlfriend).

But, I do have a giant family of about 197,000 nerds, many of whom DO have families! So, last week we asked the Nerd Fitness Community: “How do YOU stay active with your family?”

We had a TON of great responses (which we’ll get to shortly). I wanted to share with you my favorite response from Haikoo, who explains that staying active can be incredibly easy when the family doesn’t realize it’s “exercise.”

We tend to have the most success when they don’t realize it’s exercise :).  We go to the park and kick around the soccer balls or shoot hoops. They love to fly kites–if you go on a not terribly windy day, the only way they can get their kite to fly is RUN! 

They don’t even realize they are wearing themselves out :). Hikes are great as well as swimming. Anything disguised as a game. They also love to ride their bikes or get into little challenges at home on the living room floor. “I can do xx pushups, how many can you do?”

I love this answer, as it really reinforces the need to look at fitness as something other than fitness. You’re not exercising to lose weight, or because you “should exercise,” but because you’re having fun and challenging yourself in a way that doesn’t feel like exercise.

I find that I have the MOST success with improving my health and physique when my goals are focused completely on something OTHER than my health and physique!

Some More Tips from the Rebellion


Along with the great response above, our awesome community answered the call and provided TONS of excellent insight and experience.

Remember – we’re all in this together. Don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel when you have your fellow Rebels fighting the same battle alongside you.

Here are some of our favorite responses:

Steffen used technology and gamification to his advantage:

We tried geocaching this weekend in a large forest with hills. Seems like a great form of family exercise. Our kids at 4 and 6 loved it

Chris has found a way to incorporate his six year old daughter into his workouts.

My six year old daughter and I do things together. She rounds up us adults for walks and we’ve done daddy/daughter kettlebell workouts together. My tip is to include them in what I’m doing. If your little ones have a passion or “wanna be just like you” let them. Sure they may not be able to keep up or have great form, but it’s our job to show them that it’s fun and to encourage them to start these healthy habits early.

@SkaSchmidt instilled a love of exercise early:

My 2 and a half year old loves doing a little circuit of running and pushups in the backyard. My 5 week old, not so much though.

Diana reminds us that this doesn’t have to be complicated:

My dad and I used to cut wood and move for the open fire together.

ShortGorilla has instilled a love for exercise:

My kids like to do pushups and situps and stuff with me. And they’ll watch me lift in the basement sometimes. They like to do bodyweight exercises and run with me for ‘treasure coins’. We try to teach them that exercise is fun and rewarding. The kids will a combination of squats, burpees, situps, pushups, jumping jacks, and mountain climbers. My four year old likes to pretend to clean and press too.

Bari prefers a more formal route to stay connected with his family:

My siblings and I do a 5ks together even though we live in different cities.

@josh_crocker turns everything into a game:

We have young children and make all of it a playful game. Family walks, tag, hide and seek.

Raev recognizes the wisdom of not forcing activities you don’t find enjoyable:

I have a teenage daughter as well. She doesn’t really care about exercising but this coming weekend we are driving to a good hiking spot, so we can all hike to the waterfalls. Where she doesn’t care about exercising, she loves the outdoors – so we do things outdoors where she can get moving and get the heart rate up in a way she finds fun, so she doesn’t even realize dear ole dad is making her exercise. Hiking, exploring, climbing, swimming…these are the things I do with her.

Healthy families are strong families

Family Landscape

I want to leave you with one final thought: you’re a superhero to your family, whether you realize it or not.

You are your kids’ (or your partner’s) biggest hero; it’s time to decide what kind of superpower you have. Is it super strength? Lightning fast reflexes? Or the ability to sit on the couch and watch TV for hours on end? How you act will determine the health and habits your family builds too.

They will do what you do, not what you say to do.

If we can instill the habit of health, fitness, and happiness in ourselves, our families are more likely to grow up healthy and not deal with the health issues that come with being overweight and out of shape.

I’d love to hear from you – in case you didn’t get a chance to chime in before.

If you have a busy life and a family to take care of, how do you find time to exercise?


PS: Early Bird Pricing for Camp Nerd Fitness ends and prices go up Sunday at midnight! We’ve already got 100+ rebels joining us, and spots are filling up fast. See you there 🙂

PPS: We’re hiring! Nerd Fitness is looking for a rockstar designer to join our team (which just recently got bigger with the addition of NF Rebels Page and Noel). Details are on our “work with us” page.


photo source: Chuck Coker: Light Bulb, glynlowe: family, Kristina Alexanderson: Lego Family, Thomas Leuthard: Against the Grain, Thomas Leuthard: beach

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    39 thoughts on “How to Stay Active When You Have A Family

    1. Brilliant article as ever Steve…but this doesn’t just need ot be advice for families but for everyone who wants to better themselves!

    2. Great tips here Steve. I think a lot of times as parents we tend to over complicate fitness with our children. The biggest thing is to just get them outside a lot and early. Allow them to share in your workouts. Do things that they love.

    3. Personally, I force my self to wake up early enough to exercise and I force my hubby to carve time in his schedule to get the kids ready while I exercise.
      The way I force myself is by it being a habit. Even if I don’t feel like it, I tell myself that I’ll just do weights (which I like better than running), or that I just want to keep it a habit so I won’t work out very hard. Sometimes I end up working out hard and sometimes I do slack a little, but I don’t give myself room to make excuses not to go.
      However, I do talk a walk up and down the street with my hubby and kids, take them to the park where we can walk, go hiking or do yard work.
      Awesome article!!!

    4. Awesomeness. My two boys (4 & 2) love jumping on mommy’s back when I’m doing push ups. We also have a blast running around playing stormtroopers and Clone Wars.

    5. Yeah, I think just taking walks around the neighborhood is great! We are often the only family walking around our neighborhood.

    6. Great article as usual. I’m a little way off having any kids yet, but I remember that on the weekends me and my brother spent with our Dad, he would always take us swimming, or down to the part to play football (soccer to you yanks).
      And it’s only just dawned on me that he wasn’t just doing it for the fun of it, but to make sure we all kept active. Dad’s are awesome.

    7. Once again, you’re right on the money Steve.

      As for involving your kids into exercise, I think a lot of parents of very young children tend to get cut out of this one. You can’t really go bike riding with a 6 month old (unless you shell out some cash for a special buggy) or take them on a hike.

      But I used to use them as kettlebells. Really. I would swing my little one and he would laugh and laugh and I got pretty strong because of it. Man, I could out-row anyone in my weight lifting class because of it.

      Also, I used to do yoga with them. My oldest would copy my moves and the youngest would just enjoy the funny movements I would make. Children are never too young to involve them, even if you’re just squatting while they lay in the crib and watch you!

      Thanks for the article, Steve!

    8. Mother of 5; I’m up before the kids, level up for the day. I’m ready for bed, often, before the kids are but it’s worth it. Last mother’s day the project came home from my 3rd grader; “your mom’s favorite color is? her favorite food is? Your mom is cool because; (wait for it) she works out!”

    9. It’s just me and my daughter and it was really hard in the beginning to stay active. The gym I go to has a HUGE structure for the kids to play on. So while I’m there she’s running around with other kids. Then we go home, eat, then go to the park next to our apartment and play soccer for an hour. On weekends, we’re never home. She’s 5 and LOVES kayaking! Obviously, I row the boat, but she loves the view and thinks of it as an adventure. So every weekend now (and for the last 2 years) she wakes me up and goes “Mommy, what kind of adventure are we going on today?” This year she’s finally started liking hiking more. And I have a season pass to this local park. She rides her bike while I chase after her. Plus the fun 5ks. That’s been helping a lot. Her dad and her step mom don’t live the same lifestyle. So that’s hard on her. She goes from crazy active to sedentary every week. It’s hard keeping up the active lifestyle, but we make it work and love every second of it.

    10. I’ve seen the article about roughhousing with your kids, especially boys. Not only does it promote healthy habits, but there are other benefits too. And laughing. So much laughing. Laughing is some of the best ways I stayed slim when I was a kid. And it’s so easy to pull out a tickle fight for a few minutes. I’ve got forearms like Popeye now with tickling three boys.

    11. I really like this article. It is true most look at it like a chore or something BUT there are so many ways to have fun while keeping fit. For me and my family , we enjoy playing DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) and the Just dance games. The Just Dance games alone are super fun and you break a sweat while playing, and who doesn’t like swimming(cept for maybe some people who cant swim) but yea theres alot to do even a family nature hike and you can show your kids the animals and stuff :3

    12. Great tips. I, like most people, have a busy schedule so when I get up in the morning I start by doing 20 pushups, when I change in the evening to my relaxing atire I do 20 more, and when I go to bed I do 20 more. In time these add up and can add to your overall fitness.

    13. I have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and I’m 23 weeks pregnant. Most of my strength work these days comes from sneaking it in at work on bathroom breaks–wall pushups and squats, typically. I’d do tricep dips on my chair, if only it didn’t roll…
      At home, I get a workout any time I play with my girls, even if it’s just from getting on the floor, then getting up to fill a sippy cup and back down again. My 2-year-old is a thrill-seeker, and I’ve got to be fast to keep her safe from climbing on the couch or Dad’s recliner where she can tumble off head first, when she’s not working on her obsessions of playing in the toilet water–she laughs when we catch her at it–or slamming kitchen cabinets shut (they have child-safety locks, but they still open enough for her to get a few fingers in before she closes them!) My 4-year-old loves to go for walks, or to pick dewberries off the vines growing wild along our fences, or to go to the park and win races–she enjoys running, even when (or especially when) she knows I’ve given up running until after the baby’s born. She also loves to make muscles with the set of 2-pound dumbbells and anything I’ll let her do with my resistance bands. And we all enjoy “dancing” with DVDs and online videos that are–though she doesn’t realize it–workouts and aerobics of various types, or just anytime some cool and upbeat music is on.
      Playouts are undoubtedly the most fun way to get exercise in–plus so much more!

    14. Oh, yeah, plus my 4-year-old loves going to fun runs with me and “winning” medals for doing the kids’ runs!

    15. Really good stuff. I like to call this the art of distraction. You’ve taken this to the next level.

    16. Fantastic article Steve!! I’m always trying to think up ways to play AND exercise with my kids. It’s pretty easy with my 2 year old, he is a mini energiser bunny!! My 3 week old, well, he like to lie there and watch 🙂

    17. I don’t have kids, but I do have great memories of my mom setting a good example for me when I was a kid. We weren’t a very outdoorsy family, but she woke up regularly to go jogging on a trail near our house. I learned from her example the importance of picking a workout that you love and really making a habit of it. Although running never became my thing, I have stuck with working out in whatever form pretty well since about 8th grade. Now, she’s into yoga, and we go to yoga class or pilates when I visit her or she visits me.

    18. It’s all about time management. I run a lot because I love it. That means some days I have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get it done. Sometimes I have to leave work a little early. And all the time I don’t watch TV.

      When things get too busy I pop in a workout video. My kids (I have 5) join in the fun. The best run I’ve done was a 5k with my daughter. I set a personal worst in time but a personal best in parenting.

    19. As a single parent, I’ve always struggled with this! Thanks so much for the article! It’s nice to remember I’m not the only one in this battle. I also have another way to get kids involved. I let my son teach me the sports he’s involved in. He cheers me on & corrects me when I don’t do something correctly. It gives both of us extra exercise & he enjoys the role reversal. I don’t normally like playing the sports he’s involved in, but it’s hard not to enjoy doing an activity my kid is proud of me for! (Hey our kids love watching us cheer for them, why not let them cheer for us?)

    20. Great tips here Steve. I’m pretty lucky that I work from home (doing a similar, yet not so popular…yet, thing as you) but it’s still important for me to make family time important.

      I tend to try to work with as minimalist lifting routine as I can, 50 mins or so, 3 times a week, and then chuck a sprint session in there somewhere too.

      I get up early, but hate training then, so I tend to work then, hit the gym (I have my own!) before dinner. This allows family time too.

      I do think, that although family is so important, people definitely need to value themselves more, and make sure that they are looking after themselves, and the self esteem and rewards for that tend to make you a better person to be around anyway.

      What sort of minamalist routine would you offer to someone who was really time strapped? Look forward to your thoughts



    21. Backyard olympics and geocaching – love it!

      I gained 57 pounds when I had my first baby and boy, did it take a long time to shed all of that weight! At first, I struggled with trying to get in 60 minutes of strength, cardio, stretching yadda yadda – with no results.

      It was only when I realized that every little bit counts that I started chunking it into little activities to do with my toddler that I started to lose all that goop. I whole heartedly agree with you that you should really just start wherever you’re at. I’ve slowly lost all that extra weight (finally!) by doing crazy dances to “B-I-N-G-O”, by playing popcorn ( like burpees, except you yell popcorn every time you jump up lol), heck, I even did me some workouts form the Insanity program with my little one trying to keep up lol.

      Anyway, awesome post. I just discovered your blog – definitely going to be stopping by again!

    22. Our fav Friday night activity: dance party in the living room! Ipod on the stereo doc and bam, we got a party! Sometimes we lose track of time and dance for an hour. It’s a lot of fun, great exercise and we really get to connect w/ our girls (ages 6 & 9). Win-win-win for all.

    23. Great article. As a parent of 3 (9,7, and 4) I know it can be a struggle to stay active. Bottom line is my wife and I both make it a priority. We want to be healthy, but we also know we want our kids to see us as good role models who stay active.

    24. Nice one Steve, I don’t think that kids need encouragement to be active. All we need to do as parents is listen to them when they wan’t to play ball.

    25. I don’t have a family, but the best memories of my childhood all involve the outdoors. I think the easiest way is just to make sure you go outside once a day. Once you are there, there are so many things you can do. I remember having fun, just raking the leaves so my cousins and I could jump in them afterwards. As I get older, we try to do things together as a family, like a friendly basketball game to stay active. Most times, with our fun competitive side, we don’t even notice we are exercising, which is the best way to do it.

    26. Great article! Fitness has to be a family priority. My hubby and I have made stronger commitments to our health this year after a couple of minor scares. We both just take 10 minutes here and there to sprint on the treadmill or do a circuit of the BBWW. We also try to get outdoors with the kiddos every day, even if only 20 minutes. We walk, garden, jog along while the kiddos ride bikes–anything for fresh air and movement. Kids really really like being outside and moving. We have just started saying “yes” to their requests to go outside and let loose.

    27. I grew up on 9 1/2 acres with horses, milk goats, chickens, cats and dogs. The vast majority of my day was spent outside doing various chores like mucking out stalls, fixing fences, bucking hay, loading and unloading grain, brush mowing the pastures…. not to mention cooling off in the pond, riding my horse, or running around playing in the creek beds and underbrush with my dog. I realize now that I’m older what an incredibly idyllic childhood I had, and how lucky I was to grow up physically active in every way. Even my punishments were good for me: having a parent in the military meant that when I got in trouble, I had to do push-ups, sit-ups, or jumping jacks! By the time I was a teenager, I could do more of those exercises than any of my friends (mostly boys, mind you) and I was known for being “that crazy-strong chick”. If I ever have kids, I definitely plan on trying to give them the most active lifestyle I can – and yes, there will be push-ups instead of timeouts. 😉

    28. Hey Steve or anybody on NF! I kind posted this really long comment about me being a teen and wanting to look better. Well I can’t find it in the comment section. So if its just a bug, I’ll keep this short. I’m a teen who is looking to lose some belly fat and gain muscle. What can I do? Maybe make an article about this to help teens? That basically sums it up. Thanks!

    29. Hi, I struggle with exercise. I find it hard to wake up early and when I’m finished work it’s already dark. I don’t like gyms and I feel I like motivation. Not sure what to do. Please help. Liz

    30. Great post Steve!

      As a father/husband/employee/blogger I found this area kept getting placed on the backburner…
      Then I made a subtle change that changed everything. First of all, I started with me.

      I went to bed 30 minutes earlier and work up 30 minutes earlier. I set up my clothes the night before (since my will power wakes up slowly).

      I then took a 10 minute walk.

      bit by bit I got up a bit earlier, and walked/jogged a bit more each week.

      Changed my life.

    31. Liz,
      I recommend starting with a home based bodyweight circuit (allow 20 minutes), throw together a few sets of squats, push ups, lunges, sit-ups and planks and you’re good to go!
      To get and stay motivated you need to find your ‘why’.
      Hope this helps!

    32. This is a great reminder for myself as I often focus on the way I want to look as opposed to my overall health. Young kids often want to do whatever you’re doing. My kids love to ride their bikes, run through the sprinkler, jump on the trampiling (otherwise known as the jumpoline to my almost 4 year old), and just be outside. I never had that instilled in me and I need to be more mindful to get them outside more. Thanks for the reminder!

    33. Do you guys create the art (pic with the storm troopers and the fam) or do you find it? Awesome, regardless. And great article!

    34. I’ve been taking the green coffee bean extract for aroun a month and I’ve lost 7 lbs so far. It got me over my plateau! happy I’m not dieting and I haven’t been to the gym for a while. I noticed that the green coffee bean supresses my appetite significantly and I have to remind myself to eat sometimes. I also noticed that I eat way smaller portions than I used to. I started my exercise routine again today so I will see if this increases the results.

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