You hear a lot about how kids and adults alike are overscheduled and overextended. And now experts want us to spend more time together? Family walking could be the solution.
Spending as little as 20 minutes a day together as a family builds confidence, encourages healthy habits, lowers the risk of teen drug use, and gives parents and kids the opportunity to really connect. Walking with the family can be relaxing and enjoyable, and gives families a time to explore their surroundings together — not to mention get a little exercise. So what are you waiting for? Strap on your tennies and let’s go!
Walking: The Best Exercise
Many experts agree that walking is one of the best forms of exercise. First, it’s a completely natural movement. You don’t need to learn how to do it –- at least not after you learn it the first time as a toddler -– and it’s very difficult to injure yourself by doing it incorrectly. Walking gives you complete control over how fast and how far you go. Even more to the point, you can do it almost anywhere. The only equipment you’ll need is a comfortable pair of shoes, and, best of all, it doesn’t cost a dime.
People of all ages can enjoy walking with the family. A lot of people who might have to sit out different activities due to age (older or very young), back or joint problems, poor physical conditioning, or other concerns, can enjoy family walking. The physical benefits are many — improved fitness, improved cardiovascular condition, better circulation, and reduced chance of diabetes and some cancers. However, walking is also proven to improve mood and reduce stress. And if you’re walking with the family, it can be a whole lot of fun as well.
Here’s a guide to help you get the most out of this fun way to bond while getting fresh air and exercise.
Family Walking: By the Numbers
Different age groups of children mean different strategies, as any parent will tell you. Family walking is no exception to the rule.
Ages Zero to 12-18 Months
This is the easy time. Family walking means you walking, with your child in a stroller, a carrier, or a baby backpack. Talk to your infant as you walk along. Point out things in the environment — trees, buildings, animals, cars — your baby can’t converse with you, but he or she is listening. Talking to your baby while you walk will help them to develop speech, language and communication skills that will carry through for their entire lives.
Ages 18 Months (or so) to Three Years
As far as children walking, this time can be a little trying. Toddlers can’t go far, and they want to wander, explore, and stop frequently to check things out that adults generally ignore. But it’s also a time of growth and development, and family walking gives you a chance to make some memories that you and they will both cherish. So put exercise on the backburner, and focus less on children walking, and more on enjoying your little one. Take a spin around the block, or down to that interesting tree on the corner. Teach them about your world, and let them invite you into theirs.
Ages Three to Five Years
It seems like this is when things get super fun. Kids are strong and fast, and can go and go and go. This is where family walking may turn into exercise again. It’s also a time of explosive social and intellectual development. Setting good habits now can help your children to remain fit for life. This is a good time to go for an after dinner walk or a short nature walk.
Ages Five and Up
Your kids are strong, can walk far, and often have a lot to say. This is a fantastic time to go for long walks around the neighborhood and extended after-dinner walks. A lot of elementary-age kids love the outdoors, and family hiking can take the place of family walking. Older kids and teens may enjoy a challenging all-day hike or a long walk exploring different parts of the city. Family walking is a relaxing and natural way for family members to connect. You might even be surprised at the amount of conversation you’ll get from a taciturn teen while out walking with the family.
The Family Walk: Resources and References
Finally, a family walk is more than just stretching your legs. It’s a way for family members of all ages and physical conditions to connect and to have fun together. It’s also an easy way to promote physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Here are some resources to help you get started:
- Walking for Beginners A good guide for starting a walking exercise program.
- The Health Benefits of Walking, and how to start a walking exercise program. From the Mayo Clinic.
- 5 Things to do on a Walk with a Toddler How to make it fun for them and you.
- Night Walks With My Teens. An essay.
- Exercise Benefits for Teens
Featured image CC by CC 0, via MaxPixel