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A fitness and lifestyle consultant for more than 15 years, London-based Sarah Maxwell offers her clients a unique, boutique-style service. She is a fitness advisor with the Lawn Tennis Association and Rugby Union and has been a frequent contributor to major British newspapers, magazines and television networks. She is married and has two children; Gabriella, seven and James, three. Visit her online at

Make fitness child's play

Life's lessons are easy to learn if we start our kids on them when they're young. So, regular exercise, improved overall fitness and eating healthy food can become the norm almost before before children have had a chance to do things differently!

But how can you get your children to adopt a healthy lifestyle? Many parents call me and ask me to get their children fitter and sort out their diet, but I always start with parents first, to make sure the messages they give their children are the right ones. Put simply: donít preach, lead by example!

Since we all lead such busy lives, and it's often difficult to schedule time together as a family, my clients often say they feel guilty when they use "family time" to do their fitness programmes. There's an easy answer to that: Fun Family Fitness sessions, in which the whole family can work out together with different activities devised for different ages, abilities and levels of fitness.

Fit and healthy families who live a healthy lifestyle are more likely to enjoy their time together. Exercising together encourages better communication and much closer relationships.

Iím a firm believer in having fun while getting fit, which is exactly how children think.

Adults think about exercise in a formal way; working out in a gym, using a cross trainer/cycle etc. But when children think about exercise they mean climbing, running around, playing tag or football in the local park. When you think like a child, even watching TV can help get you fit - singing and dancing through musicals such as Grease and Hairspray (my kids and I do this a lot), or even (can you believe what Iím saying?) video games!!!

So apart from singing along to musicals on TV how do you arrange fun and fitness for the whole family? Here are some ideas...

If your children are very small:

- Play dancing statues; dance until the music stops then stand still or on one leg

- Bend forward and touch the ground, inch hands along the floor like a caterpillar

- When on holiday, play frisbee on the beach, have races in the sand, jump waves, jog and walk in the sea; in the park, do all of the above, except jump the waves, of course!

- Practise throwing and catching skills; it's great for helping your child develop coordination

- Get the family moving; put on your favourite music (let everyone choose one song each) arrange a dance competition with family and friends or just yourselves

- Use a pedometer (can be bought from most sports shops) to measure daily steps; keep a progress chart for all of the family and have a prize for most steps walked each month/week

- Build an obstacle course at home; climb under chairs, run on the spot, climb the stairs, jump up and down.

- Arrange a treasure hunt outside or, if itís raining, around the home

If youíve got older children:

- Take interesting walks; involve friends and other family members

- Play rounders, football, throw and catch in the park; this is great for developing team work skills, fitness and hand/eye co ordination

- Play tag or it; this is the game where one person is "it". That person has to chase any number of other players; the first one they touch (gently) then becomes "it" and so on. This is a great way to get fit, burn off excess energy, increase coordination and have a lot of fun

- Make your own family fitness video and get the kids to work out how the program works; involve the kids with the whole process. Not only will you all gain fitness, you will gain additional computer knowledge too!

- Try line dancing/ballroom dancing/any dancing

- Walk the dog; if you donít have a dog, borrow one

- Ride bikes together

- Organise after school/weekend games with friends and other families.

You may want to consider bringing in a fitness trainer to organise activities if your budget allows.

Active children will benefit from less body fat, will sleep better and have stronger muscles and bones. They are also less likely to be overweight, or get Type 2 diabetes. They will have increased confidence and generally will have a more positive outlook on life.

The great thing about having fun exercising with your children is that you really will enjoy these benefits too!

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by Sarah Maxwell

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