How I Convinced My Unmotivated Kid To Be Active Every Day

My wife and I love being active. My kid? Not so much. Here's what I did to change that.

by Ryan Stuart
Originally Published: 
Unmotivated Kid Working Out - Riding a bicycle down the street

I’m one of those annoying people who loves to exercise. My daily workout is how I deal with stress, stay happy, and feel good. Whether it’s a run, ride, paddle, rock climb, or gym session, I make a point of carving out time to get exercise almost every day. Same goes for my wife. We support each other’s need for exercise and we often do it together. It’s ingrained in our relationship: We fell in love on a surfing trip and spent much of our early relationship rock climbing and skiing. We still play and sweat together regularly.

Our daughter Paige does not share our love for feeling the burn. She doesn’t like team sports and there isn’t a competitive bone in her body. Running, walking, and riding a bike are, in her words, “booooriiiinggg.” She would happily sit on the couch and watch TV, make lip balm and facial scrubs, draw and craft, all weekend long. After school she’s tired and just wants to chill and then there’s dinner to make and eat, homework, and all of a sudden it’s time for bed. Sure she likes to go skiing, rock climbing, and paddling, but those are special occasion activities that we can’t fit into our busy lives every day.

Paige’s lack of interest in anything physical doesn’t jive with our family’s priority of healthy lifestyle. We all know not exercising is a contributor to obesity and it shortens lives. In children, obesity leads to higher rates of asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease. Obese teenage girls, in particular, experience more teasing and bullying and are more likely to suffer social isolation, depression and low self esteem. Plus, obese children tend to become obese adults. Lack of exercise is the main reason.

Paige is 13. She’s a healthy weight, but without more activity, I doubt it will stay that way. We eat well, our fridge is full of vegetables and fruit, and our meals are low in processed sugar and unhealthy fats. Still, I worry that her sedentary lifestyle will have consequences. We make it a family rule to exercise almost every day and she agrees that it’s important. “What are we doing for exercise today?” plays on repeat around our house.

It is easy enough to make it happen every Saturday and Sunday, but every other time is a struggle. We set up a home gym and tried family workouts. I set a timer and we did quick reps of different circuits, easy stuff like squats, sit ups and curls. Paige is less than enthusiastic. She often fights it; when she does agree does one set and then quits. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to argue. But it’s frustrating to me nonetheless.

Then I have my epiphany. I’m brain storming ideas for a fitness article in a magazine. I’m thinking about why more people don’t work out. I know there are a lot of reasons, but I guess that if work outs felt more like fun then work more people would do it.

I pose the idea to a few trainers, physiotherapists, and coaches I know. They suggest a bunch of engaging exercises that turn exercise into mind puzzles or games. The workout aspect almost hides behind the coordination and concentration. Soon I’ve got 10 exercises that I think are awesome.

One of the great things about independent teenagers is that you can count on them to deliver honest feedback. So when I needed a critic to help whittle the exercises down to the best, I enlist the most opinionated workout partner I can think of – Paige. She’s excited to tell me how to do my job.

She kills the first exercise – a lunge-shoulder press series – before my knee touches the ground. “No one likes lunges,” she says. I open my mouth to argue but then realize I’m an exception. I move on. A cool kettle bell swing and thruster combo: cut. Anything with a push up: boo. She reluctantly okays some core and balancing stuff. Throwing a medicine ball at each other almost has her smiling. Jumps and obstacle courses are in. Her favorite is a bungy cord, twisting drill where a partner holds one end and tries to throw the other person off balance. She laughs every time she screws me up.

An hour later, the longest work out ever in our house, we have my article complete. What I didn’t realize is that I’d also converted Paige to working out. The next afternoon when I head down to do a workout I invite Paige. Expecting her usual negative response, she surprises me by racing me to get dressed. We run through my article workout twice.

The next day I go for a run. I’m ready to start dinner, but Paige has another idea. “Let’s go work out.” This time she cultivates the workout, playing on some of the exercises we’d done the night before and adding a few she’d learned in gym at school. For a week straight she insists we work out.

Now when we go workout Paige rarely argues. Sometimes she’s the one dragging us down to the gym. I never say no when she suggests it and I always let her choose most of the exercises. When I ask her what changed she struggles to come up with an answer.

“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “I guess it’s just not boring any more. We’re not doing the same dumb exercises over and over.”

I don’t push for more than that. I’m just glad she’s having fun and getting exercise at the same time.

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