active kids doing bending exercise

How to Persuade Kids to Move and Get Exercise

Few things are as beneficial for physical, mental, and spiritual health as exercise.

One review of 30 studies found that exercise consistently decreases the likelihood of depression in kids and teens — with no negative side effects. Another review of 15 studies found that kids who exercise regularly enjoy a reduction in attention hyperactivity disorder.

Put simply, exercise brings a range of benefits for kids, including: 

  • Muscle strength
  • Bone health
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Improved thinking and memory skills

But how do you persuade kids to get exercise?

Part of the answer lies in the root of the word persuade itself, which originally meant “to make sweet or pleasant.”

That is, you have to turn movement and exercise into something fun. After all, as the saying goes, the best exercise is the one you’ll stick with. 

To that end, here are a few things you can do.

1. Have a habit of exercise and movement yourself. 
It’s hard to persuade kids to do something they don’t see you do. As they see you enjoying whatever form of exercise or movement you personally enjoy, they’ll be more likely to do it themselves.

Let them know how you genuinely feel, without any undercurrent of shame if they feel differently. Say, “I love the feeling I get after a run” or “I really enjoy yoga.”

2. Ask them how they like to move.
Work with their nature. Not against it. This is one of the central lessons of the Tao Te Ching, which we explore in our wisdom library: As we embrace effortless action in our lives, we find that we enjoy life moment to moment and are able to stick with the type of movement we want in our lives.

Ask, “What kind of movement is fun for you?” or “Was there ever a time you enjoyed exercise? How did you feel afterward?”

3. Introduce totally new approaches to movement.
Is there something they haven’t tried? Jump rope, hula hoop, trampoline tricks, exercise video games, dance, frisbee, pickleball, spikeball, riding a Razor scooter, etc. They might be surprised by a new discovery!

Say, “I’d like to try pickleball. Can you show me how to play?” or “Will you try throwing a frisbee with me? I used to enjoy it when I was young.”

4. Combine movement with something else they love.
One Uplift member says that their kid struggled to exercise until they got a dog. After that, they loved walking the dog each morning — especially because it meant they could listen to their favorite audiobook as they walked.

Say, “Let’s put on some of your favorite music while we jump on the trampoline” or “You can keep listening to that podcast as long as you go on a walk.”

5. Make it a family activity.
Make movement a part of family culture. Go on a bike ride, walk to the store, etc. Another Uplift member says that she was surprised to discover that her family loves throwing family dance parties in the living room.

Say, “Let’s ride our bikes to get a treat” or “let’s go swimming as a family.”

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In the end, movement matters because, in conjunction with stillness, it’s an essential part of well-being. When we move with intention and presence, we wake up — and at some level that’s what life is all about.

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