Five ways to exercise with children

Grandparents pushing granddaughter on a swing

If you’re looking after children or grandchildren, you’ll know that it can be a great pleasure and sometimes hard work.

Grandparents pushing granddaughter on a swing

But did you know there’s more to it than that? Looking after the little ones can also keep your mind and body active, contributing greatly to your health and wellbeing.

It’s hard to sit still with kids around, and inevitably you’ll find yourself moving about more, staying active and getting a great workout. And those loving hugs and cuddles you share can work wonders on decreasing your stress levels.

Here are five exercises you can do with the kids to improve your mobility, strength and heart health:

Play ball. When did you last kick a football? It’s something that we often stop doing as we get older, but the chances are your children will want you to play with them. Remember to do some stretches first, though – try swinging your leg forward and back, bending and straightening your knee. This can help you avoid tweaking or jerking your knee when you kick the ball. If you’re struggling with your balance, stand on one leg and soften the knee of your supporting leg – think the flamingo stance. You might need to hold on to something to start with – but this is great for boosting bone strength, and is a fun game to play with the children in its own right.

Pick up the kids. Looking after kids can mean lots of lifting – onto swings, in and out of the car, picking them up for a hug. To do this without straining your back, try to squat down rather than bending over before lifting. Keep your legs hip width apart, pushing your bottom back rather than your knees forward. This will help to strengthen your glutes – the muscles in your bottom – which can in turn improve your balance.

Get on the floor. If you watch kids play, you’ll notice they play endlessly on the floor, bobbing up and down all the time. As you get older it’s not so easy to get up and down quickly, but if you notice you’re huffing and puffing a lot then you might need to put in some practice. After the age of 50, we can lose muscle mass and strength at rather an alarming rate, but load-bearing or resistance exercises can help. Try this: bend one leg to kneel down on one knee, then the other. Then get up without using your hands – just place one foot on the carpet and push up to stand. Build up to 10 on each leg, increasing further the easier it becomes. Don’t do this exercise if you have knee problems – instead try using a resistance band to strengthen your legs.

Go to the park. It’s free, it’s fun and it’s outdoors. The park is often a must when you’re looking after kids, and is a great way for them to burn off some energy and you to get active. Word of warning though, avoid the monkey bars unless you’re a regular gym goer and can do pull ups! Push your child on the swing for a full workout for your chest, arms, upper back and shoulders. Stand with one leg slightly in front of the other, engage your core muscles and use both hands to push the swing in a chest press action. Then try with just one arm at a time until the muscles feel tired, and swap arms. You’ll feel this one working after a couple of minutes… and kids can stay on the swing for a long time!

If you’re not sure how to ‘engage your core’ try one of these two ways. Imagine if someone went to punch you in the stomach – you’d automatically brace by contracting your abdominal muscles. This is the sensation you want but not as extreme. Maintain good posture too, without rounding your shoulders. The other way is to breathe out gently and then draw your belly button in towards your spine – not all the way – notice the difference and hold this slight tension without holding your breath. Or how about a bit of trampolining? Here’s how to choose a trampoline, according to science.

Chase around. You need to be able to react quickly with kids and sometimes will have to run after them if they’re in danger. Plus, kids love to play chase. But if your running days are over, don’t try to suddenly sprint. Practise at home first, with a stationary walk which you build up to marching or jogging on the spot, increasing the speed for 10 seconds and then slowing it back down. You’ll gradually become confident enough to try this on the move – just warm up first. Remember to wear supportive footwear for running.

These are some simple exercises to help you increase your strength and mobility. If you have any health conditions, please check with your doctor before you try these – or any other – exercises.

There’s no doubt it can be tiring looking after children. But by joining in with their activities you’ll be improving your health and wellbeing, having great fun at the same time.

Julie Robinson

About Julie Robinson

I'm a specialist exercise teacher and founder of Move it or Lose it - a not-for-profit company helping older people to age well. I'm also the founder of Menohealth, a range of specially tailored classes with exercises to take you through menopause and beyond. I’m passionate about helping older people (and their grown-up children) to have the knowledge and confidence to keep moving. As an ex-teacher of PE I am now training an army of instructors to get out into their local communities to encourage older people to have fun and exercise together… think Zumba with Zimmers! Follow me on Facebook or Twitter