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8 effective and fun ways to exercise as a family

Here's our guide on how you can incorporate exercise into your family's daily routines, with the help of Bupa.

By Gemma Wilcock | Last updated Sep 13, 2023


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We all know that keeping active is good for our health, but it can sometimes be hard to make it a priority. From improved mental health to better coordination and stronger muscles, there’s a host of reasons why we should all try to exercise, yet family life can often get in the way.

When we’re not busy keeping little ones happy or rushing around on the school runs, we’re going to work and ferrying the kids to parties and clubs, so exercise can take a back seat. Yet, the health of our family is something that is important to many of us. According to our Mumsnet 2023 Health Survey, 70% of our users want to improve their health. And in 2019, our Mumsnet Wellness Survey found that 82% of parents are always on the lookout for new ways and experiences to improve their family’s wellness. 

The good thing is, you don’t have to choose between fitness and your family, you can combine both by exercising together. But what kind of things can you do to keep more active as a family? Here, with help of Bupa, we’ve looked at some fun ways to exercise that both you and your family will enjoy.

1. Walk

When it comes to improving your fitness, the often overlooked activity of walking can actually yield remarkable results. Embracing brisk walking as part of your routine can offer excellent cardiovascular benefits, and can help enhance your stamina, burn excess calories, and make your heart healthier. 

Getting your steps in every day - activity trackers tend to recommend around 10,000 - can help you lead a more active lifestyle and it’s an activity that can easily be done with your family. Whether you leave the car at home to walk to school or head out for a family walk after dinner, it all adds up and it’s also a great way for families to enjoy the great outdoors. Should you encounter resistance from a child uninterested in lengthy walks, infuse an element of fun. Get them to search for things on the way, or ride their bike alongside you. As they get older and enjoy walking, you could pick different trails for hikes at the weekend.

As Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa, Karen O’Hara, aptly puts it: “You don’t have to climb mountains to feel the benefits of walking - any amount of physical activity is better than none. So, if you’re new to walking, start slowly and gradually increase how much you’re doing each week. Think about your daily routine and where you can include some walking.”

What Mumsnet users say

As a family we have a project of walking the Thames Path (we live on the Thames further upstream). So every couple of weekends we choose a section to pick off and then mark it on the map later.deplorabelle 

Get moving with Bupa

We've teamed up with Bupa and fitness influencer and Mum of four Shakira Akabusi to share some fun ideas for incorporating exercise into your family's routine.

2. Bike rides

Most children love riding their bike so why not jump on a bike too and make it part of your exercise routine? “Cycling gives you many different health benefits”, says Bupa’s Workplace Health Operations Manager, Jed Campbell-Williams, “making it an effective form of exercise.” 

It’s a great aerobic activity, which will help you get fit and burn some calories but can also help strengthen your lower body and core. As Campbell-Williams elaborates: “It improves your cardiovascular health, boosts your mental health and strengthens your muscles and joints. 

“It’s also suitable for people with different fitness levels and accessibility needs.” 

At the weekend or even after school, you can take your bikes to a park, a cycle track or round your local woods and even just half an hour of riding will help you reach the recommended amount of physical activity per week of 150 minutes. If you’ve been sitting at your desk all day, it can be a great way to get some fresh air and spend time with your family.

Plus, as Campbell-Williams points out, “cycling is cheaper and easier to do than many other forms of exercise - making you more likely to do it regularly.” 

What Mumsnet users say

As soon as he was big enough he went in a trailer and came along on my cycling adventures no matter what the weather or terrain! He’s now 3 and LOVES his trailer rides - we go out weekly (more in the summer) and I normally ride for about 3 hours... He’ll either chat and sing away to me or nap. I can’t wait until DS reliably masters his pedal bike as I’m looking forward to going out running with him whilst he rides. I’m also super excited about going riding with him in a few years.” noodlmcdoodl 

Read next: 11 exercises to do at home that are great for beginners

3. Home workouts

In recent years, home workouts have become increasingly popular, especially for busy parents who need to squeeze in some exercise around the children and work. From strength programmes to sweaty HIIT workouts, there are loads of videos to follow on sites like YouTube and Instagram that can help you get more exercise - and it’s never too early to get the kids involved too. 

“Bodyweight workouts and HIIT sessions are a great way to get moving without any fancy equipment”, shares Senior Musculoskeletal and Pelvic Health Specialist Physiotherapist at Bupa, Lucie O’Shaughnessy.

“There are also lots of things you can find around your house that can be used as a substitute for exercise equipment. You just need to know where to look. Try my home workout that uses household items to help you work up a sweat. You’ll never look at a tin of beans the same way again!” 

Fuu, kid-friendly workout videos can help teach children the basics of exercise, so they can be a good place to start for learning strength training exercises like push ups and squats. Then, as it becomes a regular part of your family exercise routine, you could take turns picking which workouts to do and get sweaty together.

What Mumsnet users say

“Also home videos. The 3 year old can try and do some of the exercises too and baby can watch (or map).” mondaytosunday

4. Dancing

Fun ways to exercise as a family

If you need to exercise from home but are a bit sick of home workouts, you could turn your lounge into a dance floor and have a party. “Dance is a great way to keep fit because it requires lots of different skills”, explains Laura McKay, Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa.

Including a weekly dance workout in your exercise routine is a really fun way of exercising with your family and a great bonding experience. McKay adds that “depending on the type of dancing you choose it can raise your heart rate, strengthen your muscles, improve your flexibility.” 

Even more so, dancing helps with coordination and balance and jumping around your lounge will get your heart pumping too. As McKay points out: “dancing also requires you to use lots of different parts of your body - from your head to your toes – meaning it can be a full body workout. Gentler forms of dance can also be a great way to improve your fitness if you have limited mobility, or you don’t currently do much exercise.”

You could either each choose your favourite songs and make up dances to them, which should take you to at least ten minutes of cardio exercise, or you could find a video to follow - YouTube has loads of great offerings if you want a bit more structure to your dance workout. 

What Mumsnet users say

Failing that, I find dancing- baby wearing and dancing if you can, is great. Pop your favourite soundtrack on and both have a dance together… Could you do a ‘mummy and me’ type workout where your little one is part of the routine? Yours is a bit young yet, but I have some yoga cards and we sometimes do a few things of those. (Generally ends up with child sitting on my head while a dog licks my face -yuck... but might work for you?)TinyTornado 

5. Obstacle course

You’ll probably need some outside space for this but if you want to spend some time with your children while burning off some calories, make it fun by setting up an obstacle course for you all to do. 

Have fun making some obstacles to climb over, under and around and time yourselves to see who can do it the fastest. You’ll probably have as much fun as the kids and if you do it for at least half an hour and raise your heart rate, it will contribute to your 150 hours of physical activity a week. 

Read next: Mindfulness for kids and exercises to try with them

6. Swimming

Swimming is a great low impact exercise. It is good for the heart, can help increase muscle tone and aid weight loss, but is also fun and loved by children - even the younger ones can join in.

If you’re going for a family swim and you have a partner or friend with you, you can take turns to do some lengths of the pool while the other watches the children. You can even incorporate some strength exercises in the pool, such as walking, jogging and squat jumps.

What Mumsnet users say

I exercise by taking the kids to the park, on walks, swimming etc. Run around after them, kick a ball etc.” Susannahmoody

7. Sports

You don’t need to have a gym membership to exercise. There’s loads of fun sports you can take up that kids can get involved in too. Take them to the local tennis courts or play football in the park and you will get some fresh air and a good run around.

Playing sports is great for a child’s development both physically and mentally, it teaches them the importance of rules and discipline as well as promoting social skills and teamwork. While you’re running around a tennis court or playing football with them, you’re burning calories and building up your aerobic fitness - and you’ll also be making some wonderful memories as a family too. 

As Dr Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa says, “you can benefit from exercise, no matter what your ability is, or how old you are. 

“Research has shown that it can strengthen your muscles and bones and help you to stay at a healthy weight. Finding a sport that you enjoy can also be a fun way to boost your activity levels and keep fit.”

What Mumsnet users say

I just try to do things where DD can come along too. When she was tiny it was long walks with the buggy. We then had a back carrier and she came with us hill walking. She is out of the carrier now and did a hilly 6 miles walk on Saturday. We have always had seats for her on mine and DP's bikes and we have a kayak which she comes in with us too. She is always happy to come out on dog walks and we do this each night after tea and before bed. We got her kitted out with good waterproofs and boots so she is out in all weathers. We also go swimming and me and DP take turns doing some lengths. I tried not to focus too hard on losing the baby weight and it did come off slowly.” Mudddypaws

8. Run

Family exercises

Whether it’s at the park or the school playground, children love to run around so there’s no reason why you couldn’t start pounding the streets together. Running provides a range of great benefits, including improved cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength, and it can be done anytime and anywhere. 

Although, it’s important to take care when starting out, as Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Bupa, Anika Kainth, shares: “As with any new physical activity, you should start slowly to give your body time to adapt. Doing too much too soon will be difficult to maintain and can increase your risk of a running-related injury. Your muscles, tendons, and joints need time to adapt, and injuries can happen if you overload your body too quickly.”

“Running two to three times a week is a good place to start. When you feel ready, you can gradually increase the distance you’re running each week. Making small, steady improvements will reduce the chances of injuries occurring.”

When children are young you can take them out in their buggy while you’re running and toddlers can ride along next to you on their bikes. As they get older you can go on runs together. Junior Park Run events, which are held every Saturday at locations across the country, are a great way of getting kids (aged 4 - 14) into running - children can start out completing the kids’ 2km race and progress to doing the 5km Park Run with you.

What Mumsnet users say

I exercise first thing (5.30am) while DH does child duty (usually they’re asleep) we all scrabble about through breakfast and getting ready. We alternate drop offs and pick ups. DH then exercises in the evening while I put them to bed. We try and be active at the weekends, cycling, family park run etc…Nurseynoodles

About Bupa

Bupa has been a respected leader in healthcare since 1947. Committed to improving global well-being, Bupa provides diverse healthcare services including insurance, clinics, hospitals, and wellness programs. Their holistic approach, guided by medical experts, prioritises evidence-based care. Bupa's mission is to empower people to manage their health effectively, promoting inclusivity and innovation for healthier lives.

About the author

Gemma Wilcock is a freelance writer and copywriter. She grew up in the North-East of England but has lived in and around London for almost 20 years now. At Mumsnet, she creates content providing useful parenting advice, information and top products to make life easier – as a mother of two children herself, Gemma knows how important it is to get the right advice.