Weekend wellness: Six evidence-based wellness activities for families

After a busy work week, planning a weekend of activities with the family can feel like more work. But without a little pre-planning, weekend time can very quickly get eaten up by chores, kids’ sports, and mindless social media scrolling. How do you plan ahead without feeling like you’re adding to your mental load? And how to choose weekend activities that will add to your energy levels?

On Friday, check the weekend weather and devote a little mental space to choosing an activity to avoid time-wasting on the weekend. Keep it simple and give it a wellness focus. You want the whole family to feel rejuvenated, share a bonding experience, and be raring to go come Monday. 

To help you along, here are six evidence-based wellness activities the whole family will enjoy that involve little or no planning. Slow weekends needn’t be unforgettable!

Catch some zzzs

Remember that workday when you woke up feeling refreshed? Neither can we! Long work hours, kids or caregiving duties, and the lure of social media certainly don’t help working parents achieve the seven to eight hours of sleep a night that scientists recommend is essential for our physical and mental well-being1. It’s important that kids, too, achieve the recommended amount of sleep for their age.

Overcome social jetlag by sticking to workweek sleep schedules on the weekend, and aiming to have a family Sunday morning lie-in (if all else fails, tag-team naps or lie-ins or let the TV babysit today). Make the bedroom cozy and comfortable (but not too warm) and ditch electronics in the bedroom for better sleep.

Meditation without the woo woo

There is already a heap of evidence to suggest that mindfulness has a positive effect on the well-being of adults, and research on the benefits to children and teens is rapidly growing. “Brain imaging studies [show] that mindfulness meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling”2, reducing worries and anxiety, and improving self-esteem, calmness, emotional intelligence, and sleep.

Many schools have jumped on board, running short mindfulness exercises via apps like Smiling Mind. If it’s part of your kids’ school curriculum, invite them to lead a family session on weekends for a little mindful downtime.

Art as therapy

Instead of allowing your children to unwind in front of a screen, encourage them to unwind through their own creative experience. In psychology, art as therapy has been used for decades to encourage healing and mental well-being in people of all ages and with a variety of conditions from stress to cancer3.

Whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpting, or photography, art offers kids and adults alike a safe place to express themselves. Whip out some drawing paper at your local cafe over Saturday brunch and draw together, make a collaborative poster by tracing and painting family members’ handprints, or avoid the mess with little ones by ‘painting’ the house with water. 

Viewing others’ artwork can be just as effective in helping people explore their emotions and boost well-being, so involve older kids with a family outing to an art gallery.

Exercise without ‘exercising’

Integrate exercise and family time with a game of backyard basketball, family bike ride, hike, or walk through parkland. Take a gentle stroll after lunch instead of piling straight into the car. There is vast supportive research to show the benefits of regular physical activity to mental and physical health4, but slogging it out in the gym isn’t the only way. Make it a fun family bonding experience.

Cooking together

Encourage your kids to take an interest in food and healthy eating by cooking with them. Whip up a batch of homemade bag lunch-friendly snacks for the week ahead or prepare a nutritious dinner to share together. Weekends are ideal for cooking with kids, giving them the time and attention to learn a life skill, healthy habits, and kitchen safety.

Just being in nature

Heard of forest bathing? More than just a walk in the woods, it’s the practice of immersing our senses in the woodland atmosphere and reconnecting with nature. Walking slowly, feeling the breeze on your skin, taking in the sounds and smells. There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of this practice for helping people de-stress, relax, and boost well-being5

Take the family on a picnic and set aside some quiet time in nature, find a spot to sit under a tree and try some breathing exercises, or seek out nature play activities run by your local council. If your kids are like ours, they can be silly and want to run around, but simply modeling calm behavior will help to teach them about the practice and guide their connection with nature.

Written by the Circle In team.

1 Worley, S. L. (December 2018), The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep, P&T.
2 Weare, K. (April 2012), Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People, The Mindfulness in Schools Project/University of Exeter.
3 Cherry, K. (August 2019), How Art Therapy is Used to Help People Heal, VeryWell Mind.
4 The Department of Health (April 2019), Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour.
5 Forestry England, Your Guide to Forest Bathing.

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