If your Thanksgiving is like most Americans’, it’s a day all about food, football, and family. Unfortunately, that can mean hours on end spent sitting on our duffs, snacking and watching TV before sitting some more to eat a huge meal. This year, why not start a new tradition of getting active with your loved ones, creating memories by playing some Thanksgiving games together?
We chatted with fitness experts to get creative suggestions for how to be more active with kids of all ages this Thanksgiving that don’t feel like exercise. The top tip? “Give children and teens license to get messy and act like kids!” says Anthony Wall, CPT, Director of Professional Education, American Council on Exercise. “And if you get silly with them, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. That’s what draws the family together, creating memories and experiences.”
One caveat for older kids: “As you get into early teens, kids are becoming more conscious about the perception that others have of them,” says Wall. Make sure the activities and Thanksgiving games are fun and not too competitive. Where you set up the games can make a difference for your older crew, too: “You can do stuff at home with kids they would never dream of doing in front of their friends.”
Take It to Your Backyard for These Outdoor Thanksgiving Games
Have a “bowling” party. If you have younger kids, let them draw pictures of turkeys to roll up and stick inside empty 2-liter bottles of soda—they can also decorate the outside of the bottles with washable markers. Then take turns rolling a ball towards your bowling “pin” down a grassy alley or up the driveway (away from the street).
Set up a Thanksgiving scavenger hunt.This one works especially well for elementary-aged kids: Hide little Thanksgiving- or fall-themed trinkets around your yard or local park (like toy pilgrims and turkeys), and attach a fitness challenge to each one, suggests Len Saunders, exercise physiologist and author of Keeping Kids Fit. A toy pilgrim might have a note attached to it that says, “Do five jumping jacks,” for instance. Then, award a small (non-food) prize to the kids who collected the most objects. If you don’t have any small trinkets available, just print Thanksgiving pictures from your computer instead
Host a water toss. Have teams of two stand a few feet across from one another—one person has a full cup of water and the other has an empty cup. The first team member tosses the water across while the other person tries to catch it in his or her cup. Have them go back and forth a few times, taking a step back with each toss. Whichever team has the most water in their cup at the end wins. Too cold where you live to risk getting splashed? Make the game Thanksgiving-themed by tossing a marshmallow or candy pumpkin to catch in the cup. Or try a hard-boiled egg toss: Paint decorations on the eggs, and then go outside and make underhand tosses to each other, suggests Saunders. Teams will see how far apart they can go before an egg breaks.
Or Head to the Playground After the Turkey Day Feast
Try “pumpkin slide bowling.” Take that bowling activity to the playground, suggests Saunders. This time use empty soda bottles as pins, and set them up on the ground in front of a slide. Have each child carry a small pumpkin up the slide (assisting them if necessary) to roll down and knock over as many “pins” as possible at the bottom. Then they can slide down after! Setting up the bottles is good for small kids’ hand-eye coordination, and they’ll get exercise climbing up and down the slide, says Saunders.
Do a twist on classic games. Plan a traditional activity you can do as a group, like tag, football, or basketball, and then play by different rules. When the child gets a basket, for instance, everyone has to high-five them and cheer on both teams. Or, the parent has to do something silly when a kid scores, like a cartwheel or dance, suggests Wall. “Insert yourself in the fun,” he says. “Kids love when their parents are silly as long as you don’t embarrass them.”
Start a game of “turkey tag.” The player who’s “it” must run around the backyard like a turkey flapping his or her arms as wings, and all the other players must also run away like turkeys (gobbling optional!), suggests Saunders. If “it” gets you, you’re frozen in your spot, standing up with your legs spread apart. To get free, a family member who is not caught must crawl between the caught person’s legs.
If It's Too Cold, Take It From the Thanksgiving Dinner Table to the Living Room
If the weather doesn’t cooperate, do some of the outdoor activities indoors if you have the space. Let kids act like spiders and crawl around furniture, suggests Wall. They can make a shape on the ground and have people guess what they’re supposed to be. You could also move activities to the garage if you have room, like the water tossing game or marshmallow toss. “Whether the activity is in the living room, garage, or bedroom, think about how comfortable you are if they get messy in there,” Wall says.
Keep the Whole Family Active During Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend
Spend time together doing activities like going for a hike with a picnic, going for a bike ride, or volunteering at a local senior citizen facility or soup kitchen. “The great thing about these activities is that parents can participate, they are adaptable for most children's abilities, and they promote family time,” says Saunders. Most children just really want to spend time with their parents, he says.
“Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, and giving thanks for your family,” Saunders says. “Spend time together, support each other, and practice a healthy lifestyle together.”