How to make running a habit in your family

Lucy E Cousins interviews Amelia Phillips, the host of the Healthy Her podcast for Real Insurance.

Family life can be hectic. From school drops offs and weekend sports to play dates and bath time, having children can be (and is) a full-time job. Whether you’re worried about how much they are eating, or reminding them to wash their hands, it can be challenging to plan activities that suit everyone’s age and interests. But that’s where running comes in, says exercise scientist, nutritionist and host of the Healthy Her podcast, Amelia Phillips. She believes the best gift we can give our children is the “gift of good health”.

“Exercising as a family, such as running together, brings a plethora of benefits that go beyond just physical wellbeing,” she explains. “Running promotes a sense of togetherness and bonding, strengthening attachment, emotional management and social development.”

Running and mental health

We know that regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, boosts mood, and enhances cognitive function for all family members, but often the psychological benefits aren’t as widely discussed. Especially as those benefits come with a side of socialising and bonding, when you work out as a family.

“Regular running as a family can improve your children’s mood, enhance their self-esteem, reduce stress, and encourage social connection. These are just some of the great psychological benefits, and who doesn't want those for their kids!” says Amelia.

Children, in particular, she says, are very receptive to the positive endorphins released when exercising. Plus, spending time outside running can help to displace the amount of time spent on screens, which studies show can have negative psychological effects on kids.

Regular running as a family has also been shown to build endurance, encourage a sense of achievement and improve performance at school – all while delivering (hopefully) better sleep. And that is something the whole family can benefit from!

Incorporating running into family life

When it comes to exercising together, we know that busy schedules and conflicting commitments often make it difficult to find a time that suits everyone. Balancing work, school, and other responsibilities leave little room for dedicated exercise sessions, and with differing fitness levels and interests among family members, it can be challenging to find activities that suit everyone's abilities and preferences.

This struggle is something that Amelia, a mother of four, knows all too well.

“There’s no doubt incorporating exercise into family life can be challenging for parents, I’m one and I live it every day!” she explains. “The great news is that we are creatures of habit, so once we have a firm schedule in place, and a routine, it becomes easier and easier to stick to.”

To get your family involved in running, Amelia suggests following five steps:

1. Plan a regular training schedule:

“Set aside specific times each week for family exercise. It can help if it’s ‘habit-stacked’ on another activity (e.g. a 15-minute jog before soccer training). Treat it as a non-negotiable appointment, just like any other commitment. Consistency is key to developing a habit.”

2. Make it fun and varied:

“Incorporate a variety of activities to keep everyone engaged and motivated. When running, change up the session, hit some stairs one day. Finish at the beach another. Switch between short and sharp with rests, and longer steadier runs. Rotate activities to cater to different interests and abilities within the family. Fun and light-heartedness are our north-star, with a touch of competitiveness!”

3. Set realistic goals:

“Start with achievable goals and gradually increase intensity or duration. This ensures that exercise remains enjoyable and avoids overwhelming family members, especially children. Many kids respond well to seeing improvements, so be sure to call them out regularly.”

4. Lead by example:

“As a parent, be a role model for your family by prioritising your own fitness. When children see their parents engaged in regular exercise, they are more likely to follow suit. Encourage participation and provide positive reinforcement to keep everyone motivated.”

5. Book an event:

Whether it’s a fun run, a trek on holiday or even a Sunday Session. Book an event with some perks wrapped around it (maybe a family lunch afterwards, maybe they get a medal!). The lead up can be motivating and the day so much fun. This is what family memories are made of!”

Love running? The Real Insurance Sydney Harbour 10k and 5k is a favourite on the Sydney running calendar

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This article is an opinion only, provided for general information purposes and should not be relied upon as personal advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care professional before starting any fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.