How To Be A Better Playmate and Sneak in a Little Exercise at the Same Time

How many times have you heard your kids ask you, "Can you play with me?" If your household is anything like mine, this question usually comes when you're elbow deep in chicken juice, simultaneously helping with homework and still in your work clothes.


Let's be real, sometimes the idea of playing with our kids isn't so appealing. We are tired, stiff from sitting all day at work (or driving all over town), not dressed appropriately and definitely not in the mood to get sweaty!


In the Thornburg home of eight kids, we have enough people to play a full regulation basketball game and can fill every position on the baseball field including someone at bat. 


Agreeing to "play" at our house takes some serious game face and time commitment, but if you do it right, you can connect with your kids, teach healthy lifestyle habits and burn some calories all at the same time. 


Here's how:


1. Put On Your Play Clothes Too!


If you are dressed to move and sweat, you will be more likely to do so. You won't have to worry about getting a grass stain on your chinos and you'll be able to fully engage in play. Being dressed to sweat will get you prepped for throwing in a few push-ups or air squats while you wait for a rogue ball to be retrieved.


2. Loosen Up 


Before you go straight into play, take a few minutes with your kids to stretch your joints and get some blood moving into your bigger muscle groups. Arm circles/swings, a few jumping jacks, trunk rotators, toe touches, walking lunges and quad stretches are easy exercises that your kids can do with you.  While you're at it, loosen up with a few sun salutations. Kids love the silliness of being upside down in downward dog with mom & dad. As you move through your Vinyasa flow, make your deep inhale and exhale (ujjayi) breath audible and, without even knowing it, you will be teaching your kids the importance of the mind-body connection. These movements can help prevent injury should you try to relive your glory days and dive for a catch or sprint to the finish line. They also make sitting on the concrete ground for a chalk drawing session more tolerable. 


3. Make Your Workout Part of Playtime


When there isn't enough time for a workout and playtime, combine the two. It may feel selfish at first, but modeling self-care and exercising with your children will help instill life long healthy habits in them. 


*Run or walk while your child bikes. If they have to wait for you catch up or cross the street with them, that's OK. You're teaching them patience and safety at the same time.  


*Make movement part of the game. Set up bursts of cardio or body weight exercises within playtime. Blowing bubbles? Run back and forth with the bubble maker then move as quickly as you can with your child(ren) to pop every bubble before it hits the ground. When all of the bubbles are gone, do 10 push-ups before you blow another round of bubbles. Next time, its 10 burpees, 10 squats etc. 


*Playing catch? Set up some bases and designate an exercise at each base. After 10 tosses, run the bases 3 times while stopping to do the exercises at each base. If your kids are smaller, use them as extra weight - hold them in front of you while you do goblet squats, let them ride piggy back while you do lunges or push ups.


*Baby working on tummy time? Lay on your stomach with them and do some back extensions, planks, leg lifts, floor bow, glute bridges and push-ups. You can also do front shoulder raises, squats, and lunge variations while holding baby in front of you.


4. Get Outside!


For the health and mental clarity of the entire family, take playtime outside whenever possible. So much discovery and wonder occurs when kids are in nature. Not only will prolonged exposure to the great outdoors lead to a reduced likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression in your kids, odds are they will get occupied chasing a butterfly or digging a hole leaving you a little time and space to notice the gardenias are in bloom! 

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