The beginners guide to family fitness


Alex, Tori, MC, and Joe at the finish line of North Fayette’s Annual 5k in 2014.

As mothers, we’ve all done it – cooked healthy meals, while disguising the true nature of the ingredients. Maybe you’ve made cauliflower “mashed potatoes” like me or some other clever dish. A similar strategy can work in getting your family into fitness. If you were to announce to your family that everyone was required to participate in the new family exercise program, you probably wouldn’t be nominated as mother of the year. Perhaps an indirect route might make things a little more fun and interesting. Here are some ideas that I’ve tried and tested over the years for the best possible family fitness results.

If you have younger children, make it a game. Young children tend to be naturally active and not as distracted by cell phones or video games. Play outdoor games, go to the park, or have a scavenger hunt. When my kids were younger, we went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and bought a “ranger activity book” that required lots of physical activity and brainwork. (Makes me wish my kids were that young again.)

The older your children get, the harder it is to integrate play and fitness. They tend to be more attached to cell phones, tablets, and the Internet. Over the years, our family has enjoyed hikes, geocaching, and other fun “family adventures” in new places. The key is to make it fun and interesting for all concerned. Do you have a daughter who likes to shop? Park the car and walk around town window shopping. How about a son? Send him and his father on a “manly adventure.” Get your kids into team sports – soccer, football, cheer, baseball, or lacrosse. They’ll enjoy the activity with their friends and get a great workout too.

If you have teenagers, things get even more challenging. If your kids play sports, then that’s a great start. What do you do if your teen is just glued to their cell phone? Consider some of the clever fitness apps or wearable fitness devices (like FitBit) that turn fitness into a game – where you collect points, rewards, and other achievements. Many adults find that type of recognition motivating. You’ll need to be creative to lure them into healthy living, not force it on them.

In a previous article, I wrote about how to get your spouse into fitness. The key is to do it with them and make that part of your quality time together. Although my husband Joe and I don’t always work out together, we try to at least once a week.

How about the whole family or extended family? How do you handle a mixed-age family group? Again, the key is to do it together and make it fun. A “family Olympics” can be a blast at a family reunion or gathering. Some of the “old-fashioned” field games like wheelbarrow races, three-legged race, tag, badminton or croquet can be a lot of fun. A family vacation to a location known for outdoor sports can be exciting and incorporate fitness – skiing (snow or water), swimming, hiking, bike riding, etc.

The bottom line is to make things fun and interesting. The fitness component comes as an added benefit, not as the primary goal. By doing that, you’ll make your family more receptive to your activity suggestions. The fact that your activities help promote your family’s fitness and well-being – well, that’ll be our little secret!

Read more about our family fitness adventures and get some practical tips by visiting my new blog at We’re also on Facebook!

Mary Catherine Domaleski

A native of Fayette County, I am a wife, mother of three, personal trainer, and group fitness instructor. I teach fitness classes professionally at World Gym here in Fayette County, as well as donate time to teach free classes at a number of church-sponsored locations around the area.