Just as there are claims as to what is nature’s perfect food, the act of walking is arguably the body’s perfect exercise. No extra equipment is needed, only good shoes and an open road.
It’s an easy, inexpensive activity anyone can do. Walking strengthens your bones, works your heart, and clears your mind. When you bring the kids along to the walk, you can add family bonding and role modeling to its list of benefits.
Integrating family walks into your lifestyle can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood after lunch a few afternoons a week. Even a leisurely stroll in the evening is beneficial to family health. It’s better than plopping down in front of the television, while digesting what is often too much food.
But to get the full benefits of a walking program, you must stride at a moderate intensity for at least twenty minutes. For families who are ready to pick up the pace, here are a few tips to enhance the experience for the whole family:
Play “I Spy.” Predetermine a list of objects to look out for while walking, such as a red car, a palm tree, or an out-of-country number plate. Give the list to each member of the family. See who can “spy” the most things on the list.
Designate “Quiet Time.” Studies have shown that walking helps your mind focus, gain clarity, and generate new ideas. Many people use walking as a time to pray, meditate, or just think. When you add kids to the mix, it’s best to quantify a specific amount of time during your walk as “quiet time.”
Use your watch as a timer. Help your kids spend time in thought by posing a question of the day, like “What animal would you like to be?” or “If you were the President, how would you stop corruption?” They have to wait until the end of Quiet Time to give their answers.
Use pedometers. Today’s kids love gadgets. Pedometers are inexpensive and great motivators. It takes, on average, 2000 steps to equal a mile. Encourage your kids to keep a chart of all the miles their little feet have traveled.
In addition to these tips, remember to warm up your lower body before your walk with ankle circles and toe taps. Begin by walking at a slow pace for two minutes. Increase your intensity by walking uphill, swinging your arms, or pushing a stroller. Cool down by decreasing your intensity for the last five minutes of your walk. Finish by stretching your calves, quads, and hamstrings. You can even try some partner stretches with your kids.
Create some family memories while taking a stroll or hiking the hills. There may not be such a thing as the “perfect exercise,” but walking comes close, especially when you do it as a family.