Family Finance: Budget-Friendly Ideas to Get More Exercise for Parents and Kids

Stay active during the doldrums of winter without freezing your wallet.

Jennifer Wray
Jennifer Wray

The days are shorter and colder. Under such circumstances, my typical move is to find the thickest, softest, warmest blanket in my house and tuck myself under it until the spring. But this year, I’m trying something else: moving my body. I’m working out, and I’m doing it without dropping a lot of cash or spending time in a too-full-for-my-comfort workout facility. And you can, too.

Build a New Fitness Habit

Over the last year, I’ve created an ad hoc home gym. I brought home a no-frills spin bike, offered for free by a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook. Facebook was also where I found a lightly used rowing machine for nearly half its retail price. I snagged a set of adjustable dumbbells from a friend moving across town and bought another pair from Target. My exercise mat came from Amazon, and my yoga blocks were a gift from a friend who found them on sale at T.J. Maxx. Of course, all these items would simply gather dust if I didn’t make a conscious effort to use them. That has come in the form of a monthly Peloton membership.

Yes, though I often work out in ripped leggings and oversized freebie T-shirts, I signed on with a brand known for its high-price-tag stationary bikes and model-perfect instructors. But a digital-only subscription to Peloton costs a mere $12.99 per month, putting it squarely in my price range. I can do a live or on-demand workout whenever I wish—perfect for a working mom.

There’s a lot I love—some of my favorite classes have included a Lizzo-themed ride, a 10-minute intense arm workout and a simple session of stretching—but for me, its yoga programming isn’t a great fit. Instead, I turn to Yoga with Adriene, who has 10.4 million subscribers on YouTube.

The channel’s founder, Adriene Mishler, has a calming, confident presence. And while her practice is strong on its own merits, the many programs and categories ensure her classes suit a variety of participants.

Here is a collection of more free or inexpensive resources to help you and your children stay active this winter. From cross-country ski trails to meditation apps for preschoolers, you’ll find a ton of options to suit your needs and interests.

Ways to Get Active in the Great Outdoors

Yes, it’s cold this time of year, but you can work up quite a sweat in Central Ohio’s Metro Parks. Depending on the site, visitors can enjoy a range of activities, including cross-country skiing, ice skating and sledding. Plus, there’s plenty of hiking, as well as year-round geocaching and multiuse paved trails, providing plenty of opportunities to indulge in some frosty fun. My friend Andrea and I often load our preschoolers in backpack-style carriers, pack snacks and water, and spend a weekend afternoon leisurely hiking around one of the Metro Parks. Or, for a more intense workout, check out one of the obstacle courses at Glacier Ridge and Scioto Audubon.

More Outdoor Fun:Take a Ride at the Best Sledding Hills Around Columbus

Small, outdoor fitness parks are another great (and free) resource. You can find these calisthenics spots in Clintonville, Hilliard, Marble Cliff and many other places. Or check out Coffman Park’s year-round outdoor fitness space. This “playground for adults,” as the city of Dublin describes it, includes a set of elliptical machines, weightlifting equipment for upper- and lower-body workouts, and other elements designed to withstand all seasons. Similarly, the city of Newark’s outdoor fitness park includes weight and cross-country ski machines and other equipment—including some that is wheelchair-accessible—suitable for teens through older adults.

Active Apps for Kids to Get the Wiggles out

As much as I might go stir-crazy, there’s no cabin fever quite like that experienced by a small child. Fortunately, there are fun at-home fitness programs for them, too. One such offering is GoNoodle, whose catchy songs and hipster performers have made it a favorite in my household. Kids can watch—and move along with—hundreds of videos at, on YouTube or via the GoNoodle app. There are multiple activities to choose from, such as guided dance, stretching or breathing, or kids can pick programs featuring familiar faces such as the Peanuts gang, SpongeBob Squarepants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

GoNoodle Games is a winner, too. Available via iOS, Android or Roblox, the free app requires kids to get off the sofa and use their actions to control the mini-games. They’ll have loads of fun while invigorating their bodies and minds.

Cosmic Kids! is another favorite, with millions of kids ages 3 to 8 taking its yoga and mindfulness classes each week. These high-energy sessions feature contemporary characters such as My Little Pony and Disney’s “Frozen,” as well as classics like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and serve as an introduction to the practice of yoga or mindfulness. Classes are available free on YouTube, streaming on Amazon Prime or with the paid Cosmic Kids! app ($10 per month or $65 for a year).

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.

This story is from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.