BY ANDREA ZEVENBERGEN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, SUNY FREDONIA
I have to be honest: I’m pretty ready for spring to come. A lot of the outdoor exercise activities my family and I like to do (soccer, biking) are most fun when the weather is warm and the sky is clear. But, we live in Western New York, and we’ve had to learn to improvise! It is possible that the less-than-ideal weather conditions lead us to find a family exercise activity that we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise: walking.
Over the years, walking has served us well. It’s a form of exercise that can take place nearly anywhere, in nearly any weather. My son and I are not very fond of winter sports where we can get cold and snowy, but winter walks, with layered clothing, keep us warm and dry. Walking in the rain and splashing in puddles is great fun, anytime of year!
The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) provides information about the health benefits of walking. Walking reduces risk of childhood and adult obesity, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Moderately paced walking burns approximately 260 calories per hour, while briskly paced walking burns approximately 360 calories per hour. When walking, it’s important to dress in layers to help regulate body temperature. Remove layers if you start to become overheated. Be sure to select comfortable footwear. Wear bright colors or reflective tape if you are going to walk after dusk. In all seasons (not just summer!), bring water to drink. During many times of the year, sunscreen and a hat will be needed to reduce the effects of sun and ultraviolet rays. My personal favorite piece of advice: start with short walks if walking is a new activity for your family. Plan to build up to longer distances over time, or you might find yourself a solitary walker! Once you get started, make walking part of your family’s routine. Decide on how many days each week you are going to walk together, and the best time to fit in it, considering other family activities and responsibilities.
Walking doesn’t only help with physical wellness; it can also assist emotional and spiritual well-being. My favorite part of walking is talking with family. My son tells stories about his school days and friends when we walk. We share memories with extended family when we take walks together. Walking is something stable our family has shared over the years, as we have faced all kinds of changes and challenges. Walking also provides a multitude of learning opportunities; the natural world is truly amazing to see! Pick a path: your neighborhood, downtown, a park, a hiking trail, a beach. There are many things to discover on your family walks!
Andrea Zevenbergen is an associate professor of psychology at SUNY Fredonia. She has been conducting research related to parent-child shared reading since 1990. She lives with her husband and son, who is now a fifth-grader, in Chautauqua County.