Spring has arrived. Cold, wintry days are now replaced by sweetly chirping birds, tiny flower buds and extra daylight hours to enjoy it all. It’s the perfect time to get back outside and be active. And what better way to do this than as a family?
When prompted to exercise as a family, many parents balk at the thought, complaining about lack of time due to school commitments or activities or even feeling daunted because of a preconceived notion that it must be done in a gym with formal classes. The reality is that being physically active with your family is easy, fun and limitless. And, of course, it’s essential for good health! So, why not try some outdoor fun to get your family moving this season?
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Walking, Hiking, Biking and Nature Trails
Families at all levels of physical fitness can enjoy the rich layers of greenery and wooded areas found throughout the DMV. There is something for everyone with the breadth and variety of scenic, historic and visually stunning walking, hiking, biking and nature trails.
One of the most notable local walking trails is technically a state park and is revered as the area’s premier wetland and sanctuary for unique species of flora and fauna. Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA offers visitors peace and serenity among the tallest of trees, an ever-changing physical landscape of wetlands and a meandering wooden boardwalk to help families get close to nature without touching it. This gorgeous walking trail is suitable for all ages and baby strollers are welcome!
In Maryland, the National Park Service (NPS) offers a slightly challenging hiking course. Spanning eight miles starting from the Great Falls Overlook and winding along the Potomac River, the Billy Goat Trail is known for its massive rock formations and technical challenges. However, the NPS assures visitors that “The Billy Goat Trail, one of the busiest trails in the D.C. area, contains three different sections that total eight miles and provide[s] fun and adventure for all ages.”
In the District, families have plenty of options for biking trails. The congested city makes it easy for families to ride their own bikes, participate in paid bike sharing and take guided tours with Bike and Roll DC, a unique and educational sightseeing service that guides families along a tour of the monuments and places of historic interest.
For those who want a stronger physical fitness challenge than just walking, running is a great way to get moving, get outside and get the family going on long-distance adventures! According to Runners World, scientific research supports the many benefits of running, including: creating happiness, helping with weight management, strengthening bone mass, promoting mental sharpness, reducing risks of cancer and prolonging a person’s life.
In Maryland, the Montgomery County Road Runners running club is committed to “community, family and friendship” while helping people train for marathons and participate in smaller races.
Throughout the D.C. area, families can easily find family-friendly races and related fun activities sponsored by local places of worship, schools and civic organizations. These are generally 1K to 5K races and are intended to be mild, fun races for runners as young as five up through adults. In some cases, parents with strollers may also race in the spirit of fun! The motivation in these family races is not to win prizes or for the glory of being the best in any specific category, but rather to promote active lifestyles in a way that is friendly and engages all members of a family.
According to Inova Hospital, federal health guidelines recommend that children and adults get a minimum amount of physical activity each week, adding that “one of the best ways to meet [those] goals is to work on them as a family.”
Families are encouraged to exercise and do physical activities outdoors as much as possible. There is no need to feel pressured or be in a comparison mode with friends or neighbors who follow stricter, more regimented fitness plans. Though there are benefits to teamwork and weekly schedules, spontaneity is wonderful, too. Keeping things simple is helpful in addressing the various skill levels and interests of all age groups.
By thinking outside the box and enjoying the moment without too many plans, families can enjoy each other’s company while working on physical fitness outdoors. Things like playing frisbee in the yard, walking the dog or doing a combination of walking, scooter trips and jogging are all great ways to do fitness.
There are also plenty of old-fashioned activities that are ready for some family fun. Things like potato sack races, throwing horseshoes, playing bean bag toss, lawn bowling and even flying a kite are all creative ways to get moving and enjoy the fresh outdoors!
If there are babies and very young children in the family, it’s great to keep the little ones in mind by bringing along wagons, strollers or tricycles. No matter the age, every member of the family can participate.
Amanda M. Socci is a mother and freelance writer living in Alexandria, VA.