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Can childminding the grandkids improve your fitness and finances?

5 minutes

You may well look forward to any hour spent looking after your grandchildren, but there are probably moments when the exhaustion hits and you think, ‘Am I just free childcare?’.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that spending time with the grandkids can not only improve your health and fitness, it can also help your finances.

  • Look no further than the playground for a total body workout
  • Technique is key when it comes to performing a piggyback
  • There are financial and mental health benefits too

Spending time with the grandkids can improve your fitness

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Plenty of over-50s look to stay fit in the UK, with many joining gyms and classes – however, a day with the grandchildren could provide an opportunity for some exercise, reveals Laura Williams (@laurafitness).

It’s all about the lifting

‘With some toddlers weighing more than your average gym-goer squats or deadlifts, picking up the grandkids could be seen as a viable form of resistance training,’ says personal trainer Lisa-Jane (LJ) Holmes of Wildcat Fitness (@wildcatfit). ‘Your muscles are being exerted against force, muscle fibres are being worked, which in turn will help to build strength.’

Busy mum and personal trainer Hannah Lewin agrees: ‘lifting grandkids can be seen as a compound movement – the legs, core, upper back and arms are all working.’

According to Linda Melone, certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of AgelessAfter50.com (@LindaMelone), core is key.

‘When it comes to the piggyback or a similar lift, avoid straining your back and stay as upright as possible,’ she recommends. ‘Hold your grandchild close as you lift – the further out from your centre of gravity, the more stress on your lower back. Bracing your belly button against your spine helps engage your abdominals, while hooking your arms around the little one's legs also gets in a little biceps work.’

It's all about the lifting

Swings and pram workouts

Pushing buggies and prams can act as a great all-over toner.

‘You’re having to exert your body against force to move, and engage both arm and leg muscles,’ says Linda. ‘Pushing a heavy pram, especially uphill, will require strength in the glutes and hamstrings. The pushing movement works the shoulders, back and arms, while combining the push with walking lunges also makes it a great lower body workout.’

Then address your abs when you head to the swings.

‘Pushing children on swings is similar to an upper-body plyometric push-up or ball-toss,’ Linda adds. ‘You’re using chest and triceps as you push. Focus on engaging your core muscles and you have a moderately intense chest workout. Stand in a staggered stance, with one leg in front of the other, to maintain balance, but remember to switch legs throughout the swing session – we all have a dominant leg.

‘Piggyback rides offer a similar calorie burn to backpacking, which burns around 251 calories per 30 minutes for a 150lb person,’ continues Linda. ‘Pushing a pram burns around 89 calories per 30 minutes, although this would vary depending on the terrain, the weight of the child and the speed you’re pushing. Playing with children at a light to moderate intensity burns between 100 to 180 calories every 30 minutes.’

LJ points out that the exercise is likely to be at a higher intensity.

‘Your grandchildren rarely stay still so neither will you! Being on your feet all day, catching them before they trip, stopping a drink from being spilt or chasing a runaway scooter will add up over the course of the day,’ she says. ‘NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is important – the calories you burn and steps you take over the course of a day have a significant impact.’

Fun and games

‘Games such as tag, football and ‘What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?’ are all fantastic for improving and maintaining cardiovascular fitness, burning calories and keeping excess pounds at bay,’ says Hannah.

Jane Wake (@janewakeuk) a fitness expert specialising in family health, advises you to become their coach.

‘Grandparents are often key role models – you can teach your grandchildren patience, teamwork, goal setting and the importance of taking part,’ she says.

Jane will be live streaming her fitness classes from her studio, starting in September, so you can join in from anywhere in the world and maybe pass on that knowledge to the next generation.

Hannah suggests sticking to the great outdoors to maximise fitness opportunities.

‘Develop those young green fingers,’ she says. ‘Try and get children involved with gardening tasks such as potting plants, weeding and growing their own plants and vegetables. As well as providing an additional and enjoyable source of physical activity, grandchildren can learn new skills and perhaps a new passion.

‘Nature walks can also be a great family activity,’ she adds, ‘as they provide some fantastic cardiovascular benefits. Make a list of birds and animals to watch out for, then head outside and tick them off as you spot them.

Sticking to the great outdoors maximises fitness opportunities

Feeling young in spirit

A recent study found that grandparents who looked after their grandchildren lived, on average, an additional five years.

‘Unsurprising, as all that activity helps keep both the cardiovascular system and muscular skeletal system working well and prevents the onset of bone degeneration,’ concludes LJ.

‘Strength and flexibility is so valuable,’ agrees Jane Wake. ‘Without good movement, by age 70 we’ll have lost 30% of our range of movement from most of the joints in the body, which can seriously affect your quality of life. There's research to show that physical activity can also delay the onset of dementia – so start now.’

Childcare could have pension benefits

When it comes to short-notice childcare, grandparents are often the first choice, with grandparents, on average, looking after their grandchildren for ten hours a week. Although most enjoy it, it can be exhausting and even costly.

But by caring for grandchildren under 12, working-age grandmothers and fathers could qualify for National Insurance credits, which top up their income in retirement, and supplement their pension.

Just make sure you don’t overextend yourself, as grandparents who provide longer hours are more likely to report a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. However, the benefits of spending some time with your grandchildren far outweigh the negatives – so take advantage of the exercise when you can.