Your kids don't have to be into sports to get exercise. If they don’t dream of becoming the next LeBron, suggest these activities instead.

By Christine Mattheis

Your kid doesn't have to be on a sports team to get regular exercise. "There are lots of other ways that children can get moving and stay healthy," says Sarah Hampl, M.D., director of Weight Management Services at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. If your child isn't the type who dreams of becoming the next LeBron, suggest one of these activities instead.

Marching Band

As they toot their horns and bang their drums, marchers aren't simply walking the field: They're taking carefully executed heel-to-toe steps that work the glutes and calves. They also maintain perfect posture, which means abdominal, back and shoulder muscles stay engaged at all times. Marching requires as much physical stamina as musical ability.

Hip-Hop Dance

It's no coincidence that Kelly Osbourne, Kyle Massey and Kirstie Alley dropped substantial amounts of weight while competing on Dancing with the Stars: Moving to the music provides a head-to-toe workout. Dancers develop enviable flexibility and strength in their thighs, calves and glutes from jumping and leaping. Other great options include ballroom, tap and jazz.

Horseback Riding

The horse isn't the only one getting a good workout at the stable. To stay upright, the rider uses her back and abdominal muscles, and she communicates with the steed by squeezing her legs against its sides. Caring for the horse is no sedentary task, either. Cleaning hooves and brushing the coat can be hard work, especially when done on larger breeds.


Going head over heels isn't easy. To turn a cartwheel, a kid needs the flexibility to touch his toes and the brawn to support his own body weight as his feet turn over his head. So imagine how much strength, endurance and spatial awareness a child gains while learning to string together more complicated movements like handsprings and flips. A recent study also found that kids build bone mass when they do high-impact activities.

Martial Arts

East Asian self-defense classes provide a one-two punch. In addition to boosting cardiovascular health and building strong muscles, kids improve their balance and coordination. Aikido, karate and tae kwon do are best for working up a sweat and challenging the heart, while slower forms such as tai chi require more muscle control and concentration.

Fit for Life

Three ways to encourage healthy habits that'll last through your kid's teenage years—and beyond.

1. Provide Options

Help your child figure out which activity best suits his personality. Kids are more likely to stick with something they choose on their own.

2. Gear Up

Keep exercise equipment—bikes, sneakers, in-line skates, balls—someplace handy (like your garage) to encourage activity.

3. Set a Good Example

Instead of watching television after dinner, invite the kids to join you for a walk, a run or a bike ride.

Originally published in the October 1, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.

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