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Football in a park

Family and Community Activity Ideas

Did you know that nature can have restorative effects on human health and well-being? According to research studies, exercising in a park or green space (open space reserved for recreation in an otherwise urban environment) can improve mood and self-esteem.  Unfortunately, knowing the benefits of exercise is not always enough.  Even though we know exercise is good for us, it can be hard to stay motivated.  Research shows that exercising with others helps to keep us motivated and on-track with our fitness goals.

There are many activities you can do as a family and community to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle. The key is to look for interactive activities that will not only lead to better health, but will also make your family and friends closer.  So get outside, spend time together, and have fun!!

1. Stroll into the Sunset

Sometimes the best way to incorporate physical activity is to create a daily habit.  Los Angeles is a great place to take evening walks with the family and your neighbors. Make it a goal to walk either before or after dinner every day.  Try to increase your distance by one to two blocks each week.  Make a game out of it: if you see a dog or cat do 10 jumping jacks together, when you come to a stoplight, pick up the pace and jog in place until the walk sign appears.

If you are ready to take it a step further, start a walking club in your community.  Ask your neighbors to get together for a weekly walk, hike, or jog.  Focus on building a sense of community by exercising together.  For example, every Saturday or Sunday, participate in “Hike and Meal of the Day” by meeting at one trail in the LA county area with a communal picnic that can be eaten halfway through the trail.

You can also train together and participate in a charity walk or run.  This is a great way to stay fit and support a good cause.

2. House Party Mr. DJ

Crank up some of your favorite tunes and get the whole family dancing. You can make a dance floor by moving some furniture around.  If the furniture is hard to move, make a conga line instead that weaves in and out of the furniture.  The family member in the front of the conga line can pick something fun to do with the arms or legs as you move and everyone in the line will follow.  Alternate which family members gets to be the leader every house party.  Dancing is a great way to get moving.  Get glow sticks, disco balls and flashlights and dance away.

3. Ready Set Relay!

Hold family relays and compete against each other and neighborhood families. For an added challenge, try running with an egg on a spoon, running with a ball between your legs, dribbling or kicking a ball between members of the same team, running a 3-legged race with one leg from each partner in a potato sack or garbage bag.  Make sure to keep moving at all times, if you are waiting for your teammate(s) to reach you, jump up and down or hop on one foot until he/she tags you for the next relay leg.

4. Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt

Make a weekly grocery list as a family.  When you get to the store, park in the spot farthest away from the door.  If there are stairs, walk up the stairs together as a family instead of taking the elevator or escalator, ask your child to walk instead of riding in the cart.  Once inside the store, divide the list into sections and give each family member a section.  In order to collect items, everyone must walk up and down every aisle in the grocery store to maximize the number of steps taken.  Once you get to the last aisle of the store, see who was able to get all of the items on their list.

5. Commercial fitness breaks

Commercial breaks are a great time to fit in exercise. As a family, perform the Power Up in 10 exercises or yoga poses instead of checking your phone or grabbing an unhealthy snack. Challenge each other to see who can do the most. For example, see who can perform a wall sit (stand 2-3 feet away from the wall, back flat against the wall, hips and knees at 90 degrees) the longest, or who can perform a plank (lay face down on the floor and then lift up your body like a board by pushing up on your toes and your forearms) the entire commercial break.

6. Water Wars!

Take advantage of the year round warm weather and bring water guns to your local park. Play an active game like water tag. No water guns laying around?  Use a wet sponge instead! The person who is “it” can throw it at the other players to tag them.  Get as many families involved as possible.  If it is too cold for water wars, play team sports like soccer, softball, baseball, kickball or basketball. Make it fun, play kids vs. adults, or male vs. female. Change it up and try to play with your non-dominant hand.

Family with a dog

7. Sporting Event Super Fans

Encourage your kids to join a sports or dance team in the community. While they are at practice, you can take laps around the field or around the block. According to recent studies, running is associated with significant declines in depression, anxiety, and anger.  Make it a team effort to be active. For example, at a soccer event, run a lap around the field with the rest of the parents every time either team scores a goal.  If the ball goes out of bounds, do 10 pushups, and when there is a pause in the game, do 10 jumping jacks. While supporting your kids, spread the word to the other parents about free exercise classes that you may want to attend together.  For classes nearby, refer to the calendar on the local activities page.

Take it a step further and start a friendly community competition with a money pot incentive.  Each family can chart its own progress on a poster board at home with stickers.  For example, every time the whole family goes on a walk, add one sticker to the board, every time the family plays soccer at the park, add two stickers, etc.  After 2-3 months, gather the participating families together at the local park.  The family with the most stickers will be given all the money in the pot and will be declared the winners.  Celebrate with a healthy potluck!  For the winning family, consider spending the money on gifts that encourage physical activity.  (e.g. bikes, jump ropes, basketball hoop, soccer balls, kites)

8. Pet Adventures

Walk the dog with the entire family. Make sure everyone gets a turn to hold the leash.  Race with each other and the dog to see who can run the fastest. To challenge yourself and your kids, try skipping or hopping rather than walking with the dog. See how many other dog “friends” you can encourage to join you.

9. Ride like the Wind

Ride around the neighborhood or to a special destination like a frozen yogurt shop. Then stop and have a treat!  See the local activities page for bike paths in your area.  Make sure to check the calendar for other bike riding events happening in L.A.

Another option is to pack the bikes in the car and go to the beach for a weekend ride.  When the family gets tired, let the wind do the work and fly a kite.

10. Family Olympics

Follow the steps below to design your very own Family Olympics.  Pick and choose the field events that will be the most fun for your community and modify those that are not feasible.

1)  Opening Ceremony

  • Make Uniforms:
    • Decorate plain white T-shirts with fabric markers or paint and colorful add-ons (felt, feathers, or whatever you have). If you do not have craft materials around the house, distribute colored tees, wristbands, or knee socks (soccer socks)

2) Field Events:

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3) Closing Ceremony:

  • Count up the number of wins for each family.  All of the field events are worth 1 point with the exception of Capture the Flag, which is worth 10 points.  Provide the winning team with a trophy.  Winning family names and years can be added to the trophy each year.

References:
Barton J and Pretty J.  What is the best does of nature and green exercise for improving mental health?  A multi-study analysis.  Env Sci Tech.  2010; 44(10): 3947-55.
Darlow SD, Xiaomeng X.  The influence of close others’ exercise habits and perceived social support on exercise.  Psychology of Sport and Exercise.  2011; 12(5): 575-8.
Hartig T, Mang M, Evans GW.  Resorative effects of natural environment experiences.  Environment and Behavior.  1991; 23(1): 3-26.
Maller C et al.  Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations.  Health Promotion International. 2006; 21(1): 45-54.
Murphy MH, et al.  Accumulating brisk walking for fitness, cardiovascular risk, and psychological health.  Med Sci Sports Exerc.  2002; 34(9): 1468-74.
Ryan RM and Deci EL.  Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.  American Psychologist. 2000; 55(1): 68-78.

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