There’s a popular hash tag on Instagram and Twitter accounts throughout the Portland, Oregon area, used by people who want to show the world the best places to exercise. And that hash tag is: #outsideisfree.
Usually it’s applied to a photo taken on a hiking trail. But sometimes it’s during a pause in the action at the top of a hill on a bicycle ride or somewhere in a snow-covered forest. The underlying message, at least for adults, is that you don’t need to pay a monthly health club fee or even an entrance admission for a yoga or pilates class.
Because outside stuff is free. For families on a budget, that’s a welcome requisite for keeping everyone active.
And exercise, especially today, is essential for families. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and today, one in five children in America are overweight or obese. At the same time, kids are spending 7.5 hours a day looking at video screens of all sorts. To counteract that, children 6 years of age and older should be getting at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here are five free, fun ways for families to stay active:
Walk. It’s so obvious and it’s so easy. It doesn’t have to be an expedition to a nearby hiking trail, although that could introduce a child to an activity they will pursue for a lifetime. It could simply be taking a walk around the block together after a meal. Or finding a safe route for children to walk to and from school a few times a week. If there’s a dog around the house, that’s a perfect excuse for a regular walk — for the dog as well as the humans. One in three dogs and cats in the U.S. is overweight or obese, according to a recent pet health report.
Dance. Make it a family thing to get the heart pumping along with some music that’s jumping. When she was in the White House, Michelle Obama was an ardent ambassador for health through a campaign called, “Let’s Move!” The campaign emphasized smart eating choices and anything and everything to build movement into kids’ lives. The First Lady, with tennis star Serena Williams at her side, once led a few thousand teenagers in a dancing frenzy during a promotional Let’s Move event at McCormick Place in Chicago. It was a sight to see.
Bike. Just like a hike in a forest, bicycling will be something that could stick with a child forever. It’s essential the rides be safe, of course, and the need for bike helmets is real. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to live near pedestrian- and bike-only paths. Ideally, there’s a safe bike route to schools. That could be a mode of transportation to supplement the walking day to schools.
Yard work. It’s outside, and it’s more together time. Rake the leaves into a pile, then jump in them. Give a child a portion of the garden to call their own — with plant selection and weeding responsibilities.
Play. A lot of times, this is going to involve ball. A ball to kick, a ball to throw. Introduce your child to jumping rope. Regular visits to the playground at a young age can build that aspect of play into a child’s value system to compete with the inevitable lure of video games. Or swimming. OK, swimming probably isn’t free unless your home has a pool. But many communities offer low-cost access to swimming pools as well as swimming lessons for children.
The important thing is to move — be it walking, biking, running or dancing — and make it a part of everyday life.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.