Fitness: Staying Active When You Have Young Children

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Fitness: Staying Active When You Have Young Children


Even people who are very determined to keep up their healthy habits can lose them after they have children. Youngsters can demand so much of your time that you barely have time to breathe, let alone be physically active.

But there are ways to stay active that don't require a lot of extra time. You just need to figure out how to work activity into the other parts of your life.


Experts say to do either of these:1

  • Moderate activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking or shooting baskets. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate can be included.
  • Vigorous activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cross-country skiing, or playing a basketball game. You breathe harder and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

You can choose to do one or both types of activity. And it's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Test Your Knowledge

To be healthy, you need to do hard exercise every day.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You don't have to do hard exercise every day to be fit and healthy. Experts say to aim for 2½ hours a week of moderate activity, like brisk walking or chores that raise your heart rate.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You don't have to do hard exercise every day to be fit and healthy. Experts say to aim for 2½ hours a week of moderate activity, like brisk walking or chores that raise your heart rate.


Continue to Why?


Your reason for wanting to be active is really important. It has to be your reason, not someone else's, or you're not likely to have success.

If you are the parent of a young child, your reasons may include one or more of the following:

  • You want to stay as healthy as possible so that you will be around for your children as they grow and become adults.
  • You want to have the energy to join your children in their activities.
  • You want to be a good role model for your children, so that they grow up knowing the importance of being active.
  • You have certain health problems, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, that can be improved with physical activity.
  • You want to be able to join your spouse or friends in their activities or just do something for yourself.

Test Your Knowledge

It's important to know why you want to be active.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    You're more likely to have success in changing your habits if you have your own reason for doing so.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    You're more likely to have success in changing your habits if you have your own reason for doing so.


Continue to How?


Having a young child doesn't leave you much time for yourself. There are ways to get active as a family. Or you can get your exercise in small chunks. Three 10-minute periods of activity spread throughout the day are just as good as one 30-minute period. Find the time that works best for you and your family.

When your child is asleep

This is a good time to look to your own needs and your own health. Getting in some activity while your child is napping, or after he or she has gone to bed for the night, may work best for you.

  • If you can afford to buy a treadmill or an exercise bicycle, this is the time to hop on. Watch your favorite TV show to make the time go faster. Or read a book or magazine while you exercise.
  • If exercise equipment is not in your budget, try an exercise DVD. You can check them out for free at your local library. Or watch your favorite TV show while you jump rope, do stretching exercises, or do yoga. Use cans of food as hand weights. Or try exercising with rubber tubing or resistance bands.
  • Certain chores—like washing windows or floors—count as moderate activity, because they raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster.
  • For chores that don't raise your heart rate, like running the vacuum or dusting, turn on some music and dance while you do them.

When your child is awake

When young children are awake and active, you may find it easier if you break your physical activity into little chunks of time. The key is to think of ways to make your child part of that activity.

  • At home:
    • Do stomach crunches with your baby on your belly or your thighs. Or lift your baby up and down as you lie on your back. You can find lots of other exercises like this on the Internet or at the library.
    • Turn up the music, and dance around the house. Children love to dance and will happily join you.
    • Take your children outside while you garden. Use a stroller or playpen if you need to.
  • In the neighborhood:
    • Go for a walk. Get a backpack or stroller so your very young child can go with you on walks. Check online for stroller-friendly fitness or walking programs in your area. There are websites, such as, that help parents find or start local stroller-pushing groups or running or walking groups.
    • While your children ride their bikes around the neighborhood, jog alongside them.
    • If it's in your budget, get a trailer for your bicycle so that you can take your child (toddler age or older) with you on bike rides. Look carefully into the safety features of bike trailers before you buy.
      • Babies aren't strong enough to handle the bumpy ride in a bike trailer. When children are old enough to run or climb, which may not be until about age 2, they are probably strong enough to ride in a bike trailer.
      • Children in bike trailers should wear helmets.
  • At the park or playground:
    • Instead of sitting on the park bench while your children play, walk or run laps around the play area. You can still keep an eye on the kids.
    • Join your child on the playground. Swinging from the monkey bars is great for shoulders and upper body strength.
    • If your child plays on a soccer or T-ball team, walk or run laps around the field during practice and during games. If you need to be close enough to cheer, pace up and down the sidelines.
    • Play games like tag, hide and seek, and catch with your kids.
  • At the gym or community center:
    • Join an exercise or swim class for parents and kids.
    • Find a gym or center that has child care so that you can exercise on your own.

Other ideas

  • Share babysitting duties with your spouse, another relative, or a neighbor. That way, you'll each get some time for yourself.
  • If you work outside the home, exercise at work or on the way to and from work.

Test Your Knowledge

To get the right amount of physical activity, you need to be active for at least 30 minutes at a time.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You'll get the health benefits of exercise even if you do it just 10 minutes at a time.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You'll get the health benefits of exercise even if you do it just 10 minutes at a time.


Continue to Where?


For more information on becoming more active, the following resources are available:


America on the Move: Steps to a Healthier Life
Phone: 1-800-807-0077
Web Address:

America On the Move offers free, personalized online resources, interactive tools, community support, and events. This program helps you build eating and activity habits that positively affect your weight and health. Nutrition and Fitness
P.O. Box 1133
Washington, DC  20013-1133
Phone: 1-800-336-4797
(301) 565-4167
Web Address: provides information on physical activity, diet, disease prevention, and making healthy choices.

Shape Up America!
P.O. Box 15009 Native Dancer Road
North Potomac, MD  20878
Phone: (240) 715-3900
Web Address:

Shape Up America! is a national coalition of industry and medical experts in nutrition and fitness. Its goals are to make Americans more aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and to provide information about how to lose weight and stay fit. The organization has published several booklets on weight loss and diet, which can be ordered from the Web site.

Return to topic:



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHeather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
Last RevisedOctober 26, 2011

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