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  • Writer's pictureJessica McQuistin

Our (First Ever) Family Fitness Challenge

Today I want to share a family win with you. It would be easier and more natural for me to list off all the things we could do better as parents but instead I want to take a moment to acknowledge something that's gone well for us recently. Maybe you'll get some ideas of things to try with your own family or at least feel encouraged to consider what is currently working well in your life.

This summer, our family of four did our very own Family Fitness Challenge.

Here's how it worked: Our daily goal was for every family member to get sufficient physical activity. Any type of exercise counted and it could be done all at once (i.e., by going for a long walk or run) or in smaller chunks throughout the day (i.e., swimming lessons in the morning, then walking and playing at the park in the afternoon). On the days where we all got our exercise, we gave ourselves a sticker. Each time we got up to ten stickers, we celebrated with a reward like a yummy treat or special family activity. (We didn't need to get ten consecutive days of family exercise, just ten days/stickers in total. If we missed a day, there was no penalty, just no sticker for that day.)

I must say this went way better than I could have imagined! I had a lot of doubts about even trying something like this as a family. I worried that I might end up nagging everyone or that I might not feel like exercising every day or that we might struggle along the way or fail completely and give up on the whole challenge!...Yet, I convinced myself that it was still worth a shot, as a learning experience at the very least.

Luckily, right from the beginning, all of us were determined to do our part. The kids would wake up and ask me, "How are we going to earn our sticker today?" On days where the kids got their exercise before Jamie and I (on the mornings when they had soccer games, for example) they also made sure we followed through on our end of the deal. I'm not typically motivated by peer pressure or outer accountability but when my kids are encouraging me to live up to the challenge we've all agreed on, I can't disappoint!

Despite my fears, we didn't really face any significant roadblocks and I'm pretty sure I only got naggy once (accidentally using negative language like "if you don't do X, we won't get our sticker". I didn't like the sound of that, so I quickly dropped that tone!) There were days that we didn't get a sticker (i.e., travel days, if someone wasn't feeling well or if we were all just really tired) but everyone took this in stride. There were also times when we put the challenge on pause (like when we were away at a cottage or camping). I did find that even on the days that we didn't quite earn a sticker or were taking a break from the challenge entirely, most of us still got some exercise on most days, so the healthy habits were sinking in!

One of the things I loved about this experience was finding new ways to exercise together. Some days Kate joined Jamie on his regular 10K runs on her bike and she pushed him to run even faster! I prefer a shorter distance and slower pace so I didn't join them, but it turns out that Andrew is a great partner for me when I'm jogging and he's on his bike. He and I also love exploring new trails, while Kate and Jamie are happy to stick to their familiar route. Another highlight was our family soccer games. What I lack in skill (which is a lot!) I make up for in competitiveness! My favourite soccer memory is of the four of us laughing our heads off, all red-faced and out of breath. I can't even tell you what we were laughing about but it probably had something to do with our unique soccer moves (or lack thereof!). Some other fun ways we earned our stickers included: basketball, yoga, hip hop dance tutorial videos, kid-friendly workout videos, dance parties, jogging (including short jogs with the kids before my solo jogs), skipping, swimming and hiking.

The kids would probably say that the rewards were one of their favourite parts of the challenge. We tried to vary the rewards so that they weren't always food-related, but even when we celebrated with a family activity (like going to a night market at the Waterloo library,) we ended up getting a treat. (They had a cookie dough booth! How could we resist?)

An aspect of this challenge that I found incredibly fulfilling was having the whole family come together and work as a team on something that's really important to me (and to Jamie as well) on several levels. Over the years I've learned that exercise is one of my best mental health tools, on top of all the physical health benefits (cardiovascular health benefits, better digestion, better sleep, etc). It's also super important to me that my family gets enough exercise and that the kids develop healthy habits that they can carry into adulthood. I tend to think of getting exercise as a self-care act that is my sole responsibility to prioritize and schedule and follow-through on but during this challenge, I felt less isolated in this quest. I also felt that the weight of the responsibility for making sure everyone else got enough physical activity was lifted off of my shoulders and distributed more evenly among the four of us. The kids really took ownership over their own daily exercise, in ways I didn't know they were capable of at just 7 and 5. Just having the expectation of daily physical activity clearly laid out with a visual reminder (the sticker chart) - and with fun rewards to look forward to - made a huge difference!

Now that the kids are back to school and our Family Fitness Challenge days are over, I'm hoping we can continue some of the good habits we've set in place and look forward to finding other ways our family can work together toward shared goals in the future. I'm also feeling grateful for the fun memories we've made throughout this experience and for the opportunity this gave me to see my kids in a different light. I'm so proud of the responsible, determined, motivated and motivating team players we're raising!


In case you're wondering where we found those awesome caves and beautiful lookout (the last photo), we were at Rockwood Conservation Area, one of our favourite summer day trip destinations for hiking and swimming!

For more family-related posts, check these out:

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