A marathon, not a sprint – encouraging your kids to get active

Picture of John Wilford, Sport and Health managerJohn Wilford is our Sport and Health Manager. He is also a Dad of three who has been navigating working from home and homeschooling over the past year, and he has some wisdom to share.


“A marathon, not a sprint.” This sporting metaphor has been a common refrain over the last year. The last couple of months have become more like a car trip though – “are we there yet?”, “you’re squashing me”, “I feel sick” “I’m hungry”

The February school break came as a welcome pause even though the break from school was being spent at “school”. Getting teenagers out of bed became even more futile and there were still cries of “the wifi is playing up”, but it was time spent playing games of Among Us and, Youtube content disrupted, instead of Maths lessons or Mrs Wordsmith.

One aspect persisted – physical activity levels stayed low. Previous lockdowns saw a national dip in levels for children with more 5 to 18-year-olds not reaching the recommendations of 60 minutes of physical activity per day than ever.

CMO Physical activity guidelines 5-18 year olds - infographic
CMO Physical activity guidelines 5-18-year-olds

During February half-term specifically, the weather was rubbish and the days were shorter. Having worked in sport for over 20 years, including coaching youth sport, and despite ‘knowing’ the benefits and strategies to engage this age group, I have been far from successful in keeping my own children active during lockdown.

Getting them out of the house for a short walk is exhausting (emotionally), let alone anything else. So 60 minutes a day can seem quite daunting.


We have been fortunate that the kids’ schools put some provision in place. A blend of practical and theory for the secondary schoolers, manifesting in prescribed workouts and challenges, many in a circuit style. The primary school suggested various resources – Cosmic Kids Yoga and Joe Wicks – and has a great sports provider who put together fun, engaging videos starring coach-led workouts, skill sessions and a great series of ‘Lockdown Olympics’ challenges.   

My key message is this: let’s cut ourselves some slack and be patient with ourselves. We can’t make being active become something that children feel they are being nagged to do and which they may come to resent as a result.

Here are my top tips (as a parent) on encouraging some movement:

  1. Are they getting any breaks from sitting? Even regular trips just up and down the stairs, fetching a snack, doing an errand (we can but dream….) will help – it’s the non-exercise physical activity that we are all missing at the moment – no walking to school, no rushing between lessons.
  2. Get outside. Event a very short walk is a win right now.  
  3. Find alternative motivation (more activity by stealth!). A game, a challenge, an excuse for exercise. All can work. Our daughter is super-keen on the environment; but not on walking. A litter pick has been a novel way to get her to walk for a good few miles without noticing. Outright bribery of a ‘treat’ from the cafe doing takeout also works. Another great idea I saw recently was to take pictures of letters on signs to spell your name or other messages.
  4. Strava art is another fun one to try – whether walking, cycling or running. And you can get involved in the University Strava club to do so! 


Formal exercise 

There are countless online resources – some better than others.  We shared some last year in our blog:  #StayActive Resources to keep the whole family moving at home 

More sports have got in on the act this time as well, with skills activities to keep participants interested and support return to play activity hopefully very soon. Check out the local clubs and centres near you as they may well have great content available – led by people you know and local groups that need support. 

As a start, here are some that are produced/endorsed by the relevant governing body of sport:

Online exercise

Online exercise is the genie that won’t be going back in the bottle. Joe Wicks is still going strong, and there are many other worthy providers, activators and influencers in this space, but make sure to place value in the reputable providers (the health and fitness industry-endorsed ones).

Some particularly good examples of online resources are:


Ultimately, it’s just about keeping active (in any way you can) and keeping it fun! 

John Wilford, Sport and Health Manager, Sport, Exercise and Health

Active Online: Don’t forget that you can access a timetable of FREE live classes, delivered by our excellent gym team via the University of Bristol Sport app, as well as a library of pre-recorded on-demand classes. 

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