By Alexander Germanis
A mantra of sorts has been floating around since the onset of the COVID-19—a way of saying “I hope to see you again.” Upon parting it has become commonplace to say, “Stay safe; stay healthy.”
While we’ve been inundated with rules and reminders about social distancing, proper hand washing, and restricted gatherings, it’s important to remember staying healthy requires staying active. Even with limited park openings, closed gyms, and dry public pools, there are still myriad ways individuals and families can stay active in order to stay healthy.
The Great Outdoors Beckon
As winter ended, we were all very much entrenched in a state of quarantine, separation, and shuttered businesses. The calls of spring and summer seemed, at least at first, like mocking taunts.
But, with a little thought, ingenuity, and creativity, summer can be embraced, the outdoors can still be enjoyed, and staying active can become more fun than it has been in a long time.
Utilizing the impetus of limited social interaction, a simple walk can turn into exploration. If you pick a direction and head out then change direction whenever you see another person, you’ll not only end up exploring areas with which you were previously unfamiliar, you’ll get more exercise too. Just make sure to have adequate water for your walk and keep a fully charged phone in case of emergencies. It can be helpful in case you get turned around a few too many times and need that GPS map app to come to your rescue as well.
Cycling is another great, low-impact exercise and there are miles of paths dedicated for just such activity. With a little planning, persistence, and perseverance, shorter rides can eventually turn into half-day expeditions out into the countryside.
There are also numerous municipal parks, both equipped with paved paths and rougher ones in case you want more of a hike and more of a sweat. The Greater Peoria area also has numerous golf courses and playing a round of golf can double as exercise and friendly competition, all while keeping your social gathering down to four or fewer people. A round of disc golf (also known as frolf) is another way to break up the monotony of walking.
Of course, if your goal is to avoid being around people, creativity again needs to come into play. (And here I’m disclosing some of my own secret exercise sites): Cemeteries and lesser-traveled subdivisions are good places to get those daily steps in. Some locations might require a short drive to get to, but the social-distancing solitude is well worth it.
Incorporating an artistic hobby into your exercise is a way to kill two birds with one stone. Turning a walk into a photographing tour, engaging in painting en plein air (outdoors), or grabbing that sketch pad and a pencil can be amazingly fun ways to build up your talents, get some fresh air, and get your blood pumping.
Turning back the clock can be a great first step to approaching outdoor activities. After all, before the days of video games, streaming services, and the Internet, children played outside all day and imagination and ingenuity fueled the summer months.
We were all children once and many of us still remember what it was like to stay out until our bedtimes only to repeat the cycle the next morning, springing from the house while the dew was still on the grass.
Tap into those childhood memories and share them with your kids or, better yet, share the experiences with them. Set up a tent in the backyard or just sleep out under the stars. If you have the facility for it, have a campfire—even if it’s just from the charcoal grill—roast some marshmallows, and you might even make new memories that may overshadow your old ones.
During the increasingly hot days, engaging in a good old-fashioned water fight is a wonderful and inexpensive way to get the heart rate up and cool off simultaneously. Water balloon wars, squirt gun fights, or just jumping through the lawn sprinkler will serve both purposes.
Even with limited space, simple things like hopscotch, jumping rope, or playing catch, hide-and-seek, or red light/green light are activities some kids might not yet to experience and, therefore, might need a parent or two to help show them how they’re done.
Something positive to come out of the lockdown months is that families have had more time to bond. As restrictions slowly loosen up, there is little reason to let that positive aspect slip away.
Build a fort somewhere around the home with the kids—whether it’s with pillows and blankets inside or with branches outside. As many of us shop online, there is the arguably unwelcome side effect of mounting packing materials. But those boxes and bubble wrap can be used to aid in constructing a fort of which not only the kids but the adults also might be quite proud. The entire activity can begin with making blueprints, which provides another wonderful bonding moment, one in which parents might better encourage their children’s creativity—or be surprised by it.
Enjoy an old-fashioned picnic in the park or in the backyard. Play games and sports together. Take the kids fishing, go cycling as a family, hike through nature with one another. Teach your children how to identify birds, trees, or flowers while strolling through the neighborhood. Bonding and exercise can be educational too. Of course these excursions might end up being educational for the parents as well.
More Than Just Avoiding Boredom
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity per week for adults. Children up to their mid-teen years should be getting about an hour of moderate to intense aerobic activity in per day.
The health benefits of regular physical activity are almost never-ending. Muscles and bones are both strengthened and stamina is increased. Regular activity can result in loss of fat, improved sleep, and reduced stress levels.
Getting outdoors in the sun for regular exercise also improves one’s health in ways a simple day at the gym will not. Exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet radiation triggers the synthesis of provitamin D—also called ergosterol—into vitamin D. Natural light also helps better set the natural circadian rhythms of the body, resulting in better, more restful sleep.
But getting off the couch and moving around should be done not just because one is bored or because one is simply following doctor’s orders. Staying active should never be simply about filling the hours in the day. And exercise for the sake of exercise can get boring very quickly.
The better your exercise choices serve multiple purposes, the more likely you will continue to do them. Whether your activity means spending time with the kids, developing your talents, educating yourself on the natural world, or simply trying to better yourself, exercise should not be a chore.
The more fun you make it to be regularly active, the more likely exercise will become a normal part of daily living. And when someone says, “Stay safe; stay healthy,” you can reply, “I always do.”
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