Easy, cheap (and free) family fitness ideas

Fitness routines are easy to talk about but more difficult to do, especially for families. Parents may work different schedules. There's always housework to be done. Kids have after-school activities. There are work and social functions. Usually, exercise is the last thing I want to think about after work, cooking, chores and errands. That's why I suggest low-impact, low-maintenance family fitness tips.

* Keep it simple. I'm a busy mom and I know how hard it is to keep up even the simplest routine. Exercising together will fall by the wayside if I over-think it. Just as education is striving to "get back to basics," so is our family. Bike rides, evening walks, jogging--these are easy to manage.

* Mix work and play. Walk kids to school or to the bus stop. The dog needs walking? There's a perfect excuse to get some exercise. Shoveling snow, cutting the grass, weeding the garden, cleaning the garage, raking leaves--these chores do double duty as a family workout. Kids have a paper route? Delivering them together provides some great together time and good exercise. I logged many miles with the current baby in the sling, walking the paper route with my older kids.

* Keep it inexpensive (free is better). When our kids were younger, we knew every playground in our community. From the time they were babes in arms, we did the playground circuit, frequenting different ones so it wouldn't get boring. We built happy, bonding memories, pushing on the swing and climbing slides together.

* Outdoor activities are exercise done right. Check out seasonal beach, county or state park passes. They're a worthwhile investment for family fun. City dwellers should check out community pools, ball fields, outdoor skate parks, splash pads and sports courts. In cold weather, nature hikes and sledding make great family recreation.

* Water sports are fun plus exercise. There's no need to have an expensive underground pool, boat or water toys. A yard pool works great (I prefer the ones with filters). Even though we live near the beach, we still set up a pool every year. The kids spent every nice-weather day swimming (and begged to go in even on stormy days!) You can also make a simple sliding water sheet by hosing down an old tarp or shower curtain. Cut into wide strips and duct taped together, you've got an extra-long yard slider.

* Do it together. Whatever fitness activities you do, as much as possible, do them as a family. This takes some creativity and flexibility, especially for parents who have different work schedules.

If you make family fun time a priority, though, you won't regret it.