At the height of 2020’s COVID-19 shutdowns, outdoor activities—and the demand for bicycles and gardening supplies—soared. Electronic screens just didn’t cut it as the sole remedy for “shut-in” stress.
The long-term effect on “normal times” lifestyles remains to be seen, but any time is a good time to make outdoor activities a priority in your family.
What’s In It For You
The advantages of outdoor time include:
- Stress reduction
- Improved moods
- Sharpening of mental facilities
- Strengthening of the immune system
- Lowering of blood pressure and other health risks
- More enjoyable, and longer-lasting, exercise sessions
- Less risk of germ spread in public spaces
Getting yourself—and your children—in the outdoor habit now will make it easy to maintain for (a longer, healthier) life.
How to Get Started
If your family has tended toward the couch-potato, screen-obsessed lifestyle even during shutdown days, here are some starter tips for building better habits.
- Bring “indoor” activities outdoors: have lunch on the patio; let your kids take toys into the backyard; make virtual meetings portable by using a laptop or smartphone (your neighborhood trees might make a better Zoom background than any digitally generated option!).
- Schedule a daily walk around your neighborhood. For added incentive, write it into your calendar, make it a family activity, and play games en route.
- Make a family date to explore that public park you’ve always driven by with hardly a glance.
- For errands of up to 1–3 miles, walk or bicycle instead of driving.
- Remember that “exercise” doesn’t have to be boring. Find a sport you enjoy, or learn some classic childhood games to play with your kids. Or make up your own outdoor family game.
Doing It Right
Unfortunately, outdoor time doesn’t always prove an unmitigated blessing. The health benefits—and the fun—will be negated if someone tears a muscle, gets lost, or comes home sunburned and dehydrated. It pays to:
- Take along basic health-and-safety supplies—water, sunscreen, umbrella, healthy snacks, first-aid items, mobile phone—without overloading yourself. (If you need to bring anything that’s easily dropped, or bulky—including clothing layers that may need to be shed during brisk exercise in chilly weather—invest in light backpacks for carrying.)
- In hot weather, schedule (even moderately) vigorous activity for early morning and late evening—even before/after dark if your area is safe for it.
- Be aware of any dangers you might encounter, from speeding cars to aggressive animals (including two-legged examples of the latter), and make plans for avoiding them. Being in a group is one good basic safety measure.
- Stay aware of where you are and where everyone else in your group is.
- Wear sturdy shoes, and check them regularly for worn spots that could generate blisters.
- Wear helmets and other safety gear if bicycling. And make sure your bikes stay in roadworthy condition.
- Get wellness checkups before starting anything ambitious, especially if anyone is over 35 or may have undiagnosed health problems.
But don’t cower in your home for fear of what might happen. Get everyone out and have fun; and expect good things, including a healthy future for yourself and your kids!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!