Moms and dads don't have to be relegated to the sidelines at the playground. They can join in the fun and get a good workout.
Most parents consider the playground kid stuff.
Julie Cousins says that's a shame.
"It would be awesome if we had a shift in thinking [the playground] was a place we could all go to have fun," said Cousins, of Activ8 Mobile, a local firm that creates active environments for companies.
Cousins, who holds a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Minnesota, uses the playground as an outdoor gym because like many moms and dads, she already frequents the place. And besides being free, the equipment -- monkey bars, swings and slides -- can be as effective as treadmills, stationary bikes and dumbbells.
"It's amazing exercise," she said of a jungle gym workout. "Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you have to sit down."
Following kids around the playground is an easy way for parents to get off the park bench and get moving, she said. But some parents take a more purposeful approach to staying fit through play.
When she's at her Woodbury home, Sara Walkenhorst might choreograph exercises for her three kids, such as setting up an obstacle course in the back yard.
"Kids have a natural energy," she said. "Sometimes it's just an effort to expend their energy and make the day go by easier. But I want them to understand movement is a part of life."
At the park, the play is more free-form but just as intense. Walkenhorst, who teaches spinning, yoga and boot camp at the Woodbury YMCA, burns calories by chasing her kids around the playground or playing tag. Then she uses the park equipment to do pull-ups or balance work.
Maplewood resident Sam Kolberg admits that when he goes to the local park, he concentrates on interacting with his four kids. Getting a good workout is just a fringe benefit.
"I've got kids who are active," he said. "I don't just go to the park and sit there. They don't let me."
Three to four days a week, Kolberg and his children bike around town or head to the park, where they play football or a game of tag.
Whether he knows it or not, Kolberg's visits to the playground have all the elements of a successful workout, including both cardiovascular activity and strength training, while making it fun.
He's also doing something many parents find hard to do.
"As moms and dads, the biggest area of neglect is not allowing time for ourselves," Walkenhorst said. "Workouts need to be treated like a doctor's appointment, even if that means scheduling three park visits a week."
Tiffany Gee Lewis is a Twin Cities based freelance writer.