Get Out, Get Active
Fun, healthy activities to help us stay well this summer
Summer brings warm weather, blue skies and gives children a break from the everyday school routine of classes and exams. Many kids have spent a significant amount of time in front of their computer screens due to remote learning because of the pandemic. This summer presents a great opportunity to encourage our children to take a break from the computer and television, as too much screen time can have negative effects on their health, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Increased screen time causes a higher risk of becoming overweight, inactive and having problems with concentration and sleeping at night. According to America’s Health Ranking, one in three kids are now considered overweight or obese in the U.S. In Louisiana, the number is even higher at 34%. Perhaps more pertinent to understand is that childhood obesity directly leads to a higher risk of being obese as adults and having more serious health conditions. Parents need to lead by example and make it easy for kids to make healthy choices. Remember that children are not likely to change their nutrition nor activity habits on their own. Creating simple, healthy habits will go a long way to helping your family embrace a healthy summer.
To start, it may be helpful to make a family exercise plan by putting several physical activity dates on your calendar. Even if you do not exercise every time you planned, chances are you will exercise more than you did before. Make sure to include the kids by having them take turns choosing a weekly family activity. Some ideas include hikes or bike rides in state parks. You can even turn the outing into a nature scavenger hunt where you search for different kinds of trees, flowers or birds. Other fun activities include shooting baskets or rollerblading. Most importantly, have fun doing it. As a treat, during or after the activity, you can tote along a healthy picnic lunch.
A great way to stay cool and be active during the summer months is to go swimming at a local pool as they begin to open up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to humans through pools, especially pools that are well maintained and treated with appropriate levels of chlorine. If you do not have access to a pool, you can still stay cool with the use of water balloons, sprinklers and even a garden hose. Create a game where your kids try not to get wet or run the sprinklers and have your kids try to jump over or through them.
Another fun outing can be hitting up one of our local farmers’ markets to pick up some produce. Let the kids decide what to get for dinner and pick out the ingredients you need. You can also pick out fresh fruit for snacks, and it is a great way for kids to learn about good nutrition and to feel involved in their food choices. In addition, now that the sun is staying out later and kids do not have to be ready for school the next day, it is the perfect time to create a habit of taking a walk after dinner. This is an easy way to get in extra steps and activity.
If you enjoy camping, plan a trip to a state park. Camping is a great way to reconnect with your family and nature and take a break from the electronics that seem to dominate families’ lives. Remember that camping food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Try grilled chicken, colorful vegetable skewers and fruit for an alternative to traditional camping food.
No matter which summer activities you choose, exercising in Louisiana’s heat and humidity can be especially problematic. Remember to have your family wear sunscreen and stay hydrated with cool, non sugary drinks during your activity outdoors.
So this summer, get out with your family and get active. Exercising and encouraging physical activity with your children is a surefire way to help them establish healthy habits that are lifelong. Researchers have found that parents who live a healthy lifestyle have healthier, more fit children. Incorporating healthy habits in full view of your children is the best way to encourage them to create healthy habits of their own. Even if you are short on time to schedule activities, doing something as simple as adding a daily walk or spending Saturday afternoons at the park can help. It is as simple as just moving more.
Lastly, exercising with your family will create more time for bonding. Enjoy this time with your family. Incorporate some of these activities to stay healthy and create memories to last a lifetime!
Marie Vazquez Morgan, Ph.D., PT, is assistant vice chancellor of institutional wellness, Cole Endowed Professor in Community Health Initiatives, associate professor of physical therapy Department in the School of Allied Health Professions LSU Health Shreveport.