Staying fit should be a family affair

Helping your child to exercise can be a fun and rewarding experience that can help your family bond, writes Jeanette Wang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 10:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 10:20am

A common excuse that parents make for not exercising regularly is that they are too busy looking after their children and don't have the time.

With this in mind, we sought the expertise of coach Jimmy Quinlan from Sport4Kids a local kids' fitness company, to come up with a fun family playground circuit that will get both parent and child exercising together.

So, there goes that excuse.

A family that plays together not only gets fit together, but also enjoys a time of bonding that's arguably more effective than a trip to the mall or a chat over dinner.

Besides, most children these days could do with more physical activity. According to a recent study by the University of South Australia, children aged between nine and 17 were on average 15 per cent less fit than their counterparts between 1970 and 2010. The decline in fitness was twice as much for Asian children, who were 30 per cent worse off than their peers. The researchers had analysed 50 studies from 28 countries on the running fitness of some 25 million children.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department endorses the World Health Organisation's recommendations for the amount of physical activity children need. Those aged five to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes daily of moderate or vigorous physical activities; doing more will bring greater health benefits. While the bulk of activities should be aerobic, children should also do bone and muscle strengthening exercises at least three times a week.

Three-year-old Anthony Powell, who demonstrates the circuit with Quinlan, is among nearly 500 children aged between 18 months and 12 years who attend Sport4Kids classes at least once a week. Children are divided into narrow age groups and dabble in a variety of sports, including athletics, basketball, rugby, football and gymnastics.

Anthony's mother Melissa says since her son started joining the classes at age two, he has really improved in his fine and gross motor skills, attention span, appetite and ability to interact socially.

Marissa Stroo, a researcher at Duke University, was the co-investigator of a study published in the International Journal of Obesity last June that found that children whose mothers encourage them to exercise and eat well, and model healthy behaviour themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters.

"It's hard for parents to change their behaviour, but not only is this important for you and your own health, it is also important for your children because you are a role model for them," says Stroo.


This 45-minute family fun circuit uses equipment found in most Hong Kong playgrounds. The duration of each exercise should depend on the age and fitness of your child, so adjust the length of the session to suit your family. In between each exercise is a cardio transition of 60 to 90 seconds. Make sure you both drink plenty of water between drills and avoid the midday heat during the warmer months. Before starting, check that the equipment is well maintained.

Warm up (five minutes) The idea of the warm-up is just to get the child moving. This can be achieved with a simple game of "follow the leader" around the playground equipment. The "animal walks" game is another option: ask your child to walk like a different animal from one piece of equipment to the next - and you can guess which animal they are.

1. Ladder climb (five minutes)

Goal: upper body strength and core stabilisation

Start by showing your child how to climb from the bottom of the ladder to the top, and then assist them. When the child feels strong enough, let him or her climb alone, and progress to climbing both up and down.

Transition: marching on the spot (60 to 90 seconds)

2. Bridge (five minutes)

Goal: balance and core stability

If you can find a swinging bridge, rattle the bridge while your child walks across. If it's a stationary bridge, challenge him or her to try a variety of different walks to cross it - lunges, sideways, brisk, animal style. Hold the child's hand until he or she is ready to walk independently.

Transition: giant hops

3. Swings (five minutes)

Goal: core stability

Begin by swinging at a moderate pace to gently warm. Then, sitting stationary on the swing while holding the chains, lean back about 45 degrees. Extend legs straight out, crossing left calf over right and with feet together. Contract your core muscles to keep the swing as still as possible for 10 counts. Cross right calf over left and repeat. Place your hand under your child's back to support them. Build up to five sets as strength increases.

Transition: lunges

4. Slide (2½ minutes per activity)

Goal: core stabilisation and balance; arm and thigh toning

a) Begin by both taking turns to go down the slide, controlling the speed of movement by holding onto the sides for support and contracting the abs while scooting down. Vary the pace. Try raising the arms for added challenge.

b) Next, if safe to do so, climb the slide in reverse while holding onto the sides for stability. Use your arms to pull your lower body up. Contract your abs as you use your thigh muscles to move upwards.

Transition: jumping jacks

5. Jungle-gym (2½ minutes per activity)

Goal: flexibility and strength

a) Climb the playground's ladders or monkey bars, spotting closely at all times and assisting the child if required.

b) Find a monkey bar that's about a metre high and have the child grip the bar from beneath with hands shoulder-width apart. If the bar is too high, sit the child on your shoulders so that he or she can reach it. Help the child do assisted pull-ups, building up to five repetitions.

Transition: skipping

6. Tunnel (five minutes)

Goal: flexibility

The child leads and the parent follows through the tunnels at the playground. Take turns to time each other to see how quickly each can move through the tunnel course. If the tunnel is too small for the parent, meet the child on the other side.

Cool down (five minutes)

Do a slow jog, side movements, easy skipping, shake the arms and legs out, and finish with gentle static stretching.