Keep fit in the family

Jo Whiley tells Fleur Britten the advantages of getting your kids into sport

Four children and two long months of summer holidays might rightly sink the hearts of many parents, but not Jo Whiley, the Radio 2 DJ and mother to India, 21, Jude, 14, Cass, 12, and Coco, four and a half. Family Whiley love their sport. As well as playing volleyball, badminton, tennis, ping-pong and keepy-uppy, “We spend every opportunity on the boat,” she says. Wakeboarding is their thing, which they do as a family every Saturday (even in winter). What’s more, Whiley can “throw them into all kinds of [sports] clubs, and they really relish it.” No one needs any motivating, she says: “They’re all chomping at the bit for it.” Better still, she adds: “If they’re doing physical activity, they sleep really well, and they’re not restless or agitated.”

It’s about this time of year when the celeb surfing families — the Macphersons, the Beckhams, the Pinkett Smiths, the Klums — work their photo opportunities on exotic beaches, ably riding the waves on the latest surfboards. While many parents may assume that their children’s relationship with sports will just develop naturally at school, these parents understand that it’s a two-way street: the kids rally the parents, the parents rally the kids, and everyone gets their fix. According to a report commissioned in 2012 by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), almost 9 out of 10 girls aged 14 fail to meet official guidelines for physical activity. For 5- to 18-year-olds, this is one hour of aerobic exercise daily and, on three days a week, some muscle-strengthening activity, eg gymnastics. More than half (51%) of girls say they’re put off exercise at school because of negative experiences. They complain that school sport is too competitive, that being sweaty is not feminine, and that there aren’t enough female role models.

Back on the lake, though, confidence is building, as are the muscles. Whiley sees it as her responsibility to get her children fit, and it seems to be working: “It’s really sweet seeing these muscles popping out. I love watching them fit and strong in the water and seeing the joy and freedom it gives them.”

Of course, there are health imperatives for encouraging fitness, too. We all need cardiovascular exercise to keep our hearts strong. According to the Department of Health, physically inactive people are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who do regular activity. Exercise helps ward off obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and is associated with a reduction in the risk of cancer. And there are psychological benefits: according to the WSFF, exercise helps people feel more attractive and more confident — not just through toning and weight loss, but also through a sense of control. Fitness is associated with reduced anxiety and depression, and enhanced mood, cognitive functioning and self-worth.

Because her children all dig their own sport — India is the surfer, Jude the “daredevil” who is learning the prelims of skydiving, Cass the tennis player and “fearless” Coco is just starting to kneeboard — Whiley reckons it gives them all their own identity, as well as a great social tool. “When India went to university, we suggested that she join as many teams as possible,” she says. “It’s a fantastic way of meeting people.” They bond as a family, too: “It’s all about having fun. It brings you closer, and then you feel even better.”

The point about family fitness is that if you start them young, they grow up with exercise ingrained into their lifestyle. The Middleton sisters — who as schoolgirls famously excelled at everything sportif: swimming, netball, hockey, tennis, basketball, badminton — have used their sporting talents to support their social climb. ”If you teach them sport from a really early age, they can build on that skill through life,” says Whiley. And while the kids are busy being sporty, there’s more hope for a “healthy focus”, she adds. “Growing up, I was always training as a county-level swimmer, and I never thought about smoking.” The most important thing Whiley says she teaches her children is to pursue “healthy, active lifestyles. If you’re fit, so is your mental state. You can be thin, but you won’t be healthy if you’re not eating much food. It’s about fuelling their bodies to lead fit, active lives”.

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Where to go


Throughout this month, ping-pong tables equipped with bats and balls are popping up in 800 unexpected places throughout England — train stations, Camp Bestival, the Eden Project. No partner? Don’t be shy — smile and ask a passerby. Free;

Ride with Brad

A year since Bradley Wiggins became Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner and then Olympic gold medallist comes the chance to ride with Wiggo throughout Lancashire’s most glorious beauty spots. August 11, £35-£40;

RIver Rat Races

Swim, wade, scramble, climb, jump, kayak and run around this wet and wild 10km riverside race. With a celebratory pint of Rat Race ale at the end, plus free kids’ events, it’s the very essence of family fun. August 18 in Glasgow; August 25 in Stockton-on-Tees, £49;

The Bupa 5km Great North Run

If you’re not quite fit enough for the Great North Run (the half-marathon that Jo Whiley is running, and which is now fully booked), take the easier option the day before, on Saturday, September 14, with on-course entertainment including bands who are also on the run to motivate you. £20;


A tough 26-mile walk in one day is easily going to satisfy that aerobic-exercise quota. Choose from London’s historic sights (August 31) or the Hampshire and Wiltshire countryside (September 7), and rush past some beautiful scenery. £59, fundraising optional;

Jude McArdle