Parenting Advisor - Exercise: A Helpful Tool for Family Mental Health and Managing Emotions

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Exercise: A Helpful Tool for Family Mental Health and Managing Emotions

We all know that exercise is good for physical health. But did you know that it can help improve low moods and depression?  Exercise can boost bad moods and help people manage emotions in healthy ways!  Sometimes exercise can feel like just another task to add to an already busy day, but experts say that exercise matters. As little as one hour of exercise a week can help prevent low moods within all age groups. And that mood boost can happen no matter how intense the exercise is.  Yes, your family is busy, but participating in some kind of activity is important, not only for you but for your children as well.  Finding time for small amounts of exercise throughout the week (or more!) can affect you and your children’s mood and health in a positive way!

What exercise can do for you and your family:

  • Boost your moods
  • Help the bodies to become stronger
  • Boost your energy 
  • Boost your brain health
  • Lower your chances of disease  
  • Increase the quality or your sleep 

Children’s Activity Levels and Screen Use 

  Children’s screen use includes phones, tablets, TV, computers, and any other electronic devices. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have reported that children and adolescents spend more than 5 hours looking at screens every day. And that does not include what they do at school or work!  Do you know how much time your children spend on screens? What does this have to do with exercise? Time spent on screens is time that is not spent on doing physical activities. The CDC report explained that children with high screen use tend to have more mental and physical health issues than other children.  The report recommends replacing a good amount of screen time with exercise.  How can you do that?

7 Ways to Build Exercise Into your Family’s Life 

The best way to increase exercise will be different for each family. You should start by thinking about what your family enjoys. Then you can make exercise fun! Think about ways you and your family like to spend time together—and focus on ways that involve activity.  Do you and your children like to play sports or games, dance and sing to songs, play with toys?  Then, think about ways you might incorporate those to enjoy exercise together.  Look at these ideas.

1. Try new sports together as a family 

Does your family like to play sports?  If so, there are so many fun sports you (or some members of the family) might already do. You could try to do them more often or include more members of the family. Or you could try something new together such as soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, running, swimming, jumping rope, flag football, lacrosse, and so many more!  Some of these require equipment. You can look for places to buy new or used sports equipment. Or maybe relatives or friends would have equipment they are not using anymore. You could go online and find sports to enroll your children or family in.  Places like the Y, local recreation centers, and schools will usually have sports classes or leagues for children and sometimes families of all ages. 

2. Play a game of capture the flag

Another great way to add family exercise is by playing a game of capture the flag.  Find a field near you and two objects to use as flags. Then split up into two teams and, when someone says “go!”, try to get to the other team’s flag and bring it back to your side!  You could even play this game in the dark and use glow sticks to identify the players and the flags.  Here is a resource to further explain how to play capture the flag:,back%20to%20your%20own%20territory

3. Play The Floor is Lava

This is a fun game for the whole family.  To play The Floor is Lava, someone shouts out that “the floor is lava!” and all family members have to get their feet off the floor and onto an object!  This video is a fun example [connect to link] of playing this game with younger children and doing other exercise together: . You might think of other ways to play this game with older family members.

4. Go on family walks

Do your children like to explore and find adventure?  With low to no resources a walk is an easy way to get everyone outside on a nice day and get exercise.  You could make exciting by creating a treasure-hunt walk. Make a list of outside resources for your children to find, such objects of a specific color, shape, or size.  Another way to find adventure with your family is by looking up “trails near me.”  Or you could take turns planning a route to follow. This is a great way to explore with your family while also getting exercise together! 

5. Play tag 

Playing a game of tag seems so simple, but kids love to play this game and it is a great way to get your heart rate up! And you can play it with all ages!

6. Go to the nearest park together 

Playing at the park is a fun way to get into a different environment and explore new ways to have fun while getting exercise.  Many parks have fun equipment, and some have trails.

7. Have a family dance party

If you and your children like to sing and dance, this is a great way to get exercise together.  Put on your favorite tunes and dance along to the music!  A great resource to use is family friendly Just Dance videos on YouTube to follow along to.  Here is an example of a Just Dance video:    

8. Go on a family bike.

Riding your bikes to the nearest park or around your neighborhood with your family is great exercise.  Again, you could take turns planning the route. You could put children in child bike seats or their own bikes. Make sure to ride in bike lanes when they are available!

9. Make an obstacle course (inside or outside). 

Use different materials like boxes to jump over, hula hoops to crawl through, or pillows to hop from. You can make a fun obstacle course that is different every time.  Add a timer and see how quickly everyone can go through the obstacle course. This is a good way to exercise indoors when the weather is a problem outdoors. 


Exercise is great for physical health and wellbeing but can also be a helpful tool for boosting moods.  Depression is a risk factor for adults and children who have go through break-ups and other losses, but exercise can lower those risk factors.  Research shows that those who exercise during the week have better quality of life throughout their lifespan.  Having fun and getting exercise as a family is a great way to have some bonding time as well as reduce low moods.  Look at some of these suggestions or think of your own ideas of ways to fit more exercise in the life of your family. Do it today! 


Harvey, S. B., Øverland, S., Hatch, S. L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A., & Hotopf, M. (2018). Exercise and the prevention of depression: Results of the HUNT cohort study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), 28–36.

Semeco, A. (2023, February 9). Exercise: The top 10 benefits of regular physical activity. Healthline.

Legner, L. (2022, April 22). Kids’ screen time: How much is too much? OSF HealthCare Blog. 

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