14 Cheap or Free Ways to Get the Entire Family in Shape


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Summer is just around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to start getting the family in shape. Fun activities that get everyone moving are easy to find but often expensive. Here are 14 low-cost or free family-friendly activities that will boost energy, encourage family bonding, and promote fitness.

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Yoga classes are not always cheap, and multiplying the cost for each family member really adds up. Organize yoga sessions at home, instead. YouTube is packed with family yoga classes. Settle on one that works for all and then customize it for more benefit and more fun.

Related: 10 Budget-Friendly Yoga Retreats

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Jogging and running are excellent cardiovascular exercise, and building a regular family run into the schedule will help everyone shape up. Choose routes that account for each member’s needs and, above all, let the kids set the pace. According to the Road Runners Club of America, prepubescent children should avoid running for longer than 60 minutes.

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Families that live near walking paths, river bluffs, hills, or mountains can take regular hikes. The activity can be as casual as a stroll through a hilly neighborhood or as serious as a rugged climb that requires planning and provisions. Even routes suited to the smallest family member can still ensure a quality workout for everyone.

Related: 15 Epic Hiking Trails Around the World

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Not all volunteer work involves physical exertion, but there are plenty of options that will leave the family worn out and sweaty. Sign up for a hiking-trail cleanup, help build a home for a needy family, or offer to do some heavy lifting for a local food bank. Volunteering gives back to the community while giving the family a chance for better health.

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Once summer ramps up, there may be opportunities to pick produce at a nearby farm. Tramping through a field and gathering strawberries, reaching up into a tree to pick peaches, or bending over to pluck beans off a stalk gets family members moving. It also provides nutritious foods to freeze and enjoy later.

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Skip the train or other transport used to get around the zoo and walk the grounds. Admission to some zoos is free, even in big cities such as Chicago and St. Louis. If it’s not, frequent visitors might consider picking up a money-saving family membership (at least part of the fee may be tax deductible). The Kansas City Zoo, for example, offers admission for two adults and all children for $99 a year, which pays for itself quickly.

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Think up a challenge each week to see who in the family can shoot the most baskets, run around the yard the fastest, or do the most jumping jacks. Alternating the events will keep family members from getting bored. If sibling rivalry gets too fierce, change up the nature of the competition -- instead of winner-take-all, set different goals for the kids depending on their age.

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Take the family to the rink, whether for roller skating or ice skating, depending on the season. Many public skating sessions cost $5 a person or less for a few hours. The kids may skate circles around adults who haven't set foot in a rink since grade school, but this is a fun way for everyone to be active while bonding as a group.

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Gardening may seem like a peaceful activity, but yardwork provides a good workout. Mowing and watering, pruning and weeding, all have the potential to burn quite a few calories, according to CalorieLab. Warm weather can take a toll on landscapes, so tackle lawn care as a team to get both greenery and its keepers into tip-top shape.

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Housework helps keep people active, but it can be a real drag -- and children know it. To help motivate the whole clan, incorporate music into the cleaning routine. Choose silly songs, heavy metal, or ska -- anything that makes kids want to move. Experts at Psych Central suggest that parents' participation encourages young helpers to clean more effectively than ordering them to do it from the couch.

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Swimming is loads of fun and healthy exercise for the family, whether at the beach during summer or an indoor pool in the winter. Public beaches may be free (watch out for parking fees) and open swim at many YMCA locations is free for members, while guests pay a nominal fee.

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Shake up the family’s regular routine with some exercise. While watching TV together, require family members to do 10 jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Before everyone heads to bed, perform some gentle stretches as a family.

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Plan a weekend at a nearby campsite. Lugging tent, supplies, and other equipment is an exercise in and of itself, and pitching the tent gets the blood pumping. The natural surroundings, too, will encourage free play and other physical activities that keep family members on the move.

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Grab a few hula hoops from the local discount store and challenge the family to master the art of hooping. According to SparkPeople, a person weighing 175 pounds can burn about 77 calories during a 10-minute session.