Summer is the time to be active and physically fit, but soaring temperatures can make exercising a challenge. Turn on your family’s imagination and defy the heat by making this summer your most physically active yet.
by Lori Zanteson
Ah, summertime! There’s no better season for families to get moving than those long and sunny days of carefree play. That is, until the heat turns brutal. Suddenly those long-awaited dreams of outdoor freedom turn into stale hours slouched in front of a video screen.
What’s a family to do to maintain fitness and get a daily dose of healthy physical activity? With a bit of creativity, your family can defy the heat and make this your best and most active summer yet.
Time it right
Summer is made for outdoor activities like hiking, bike riding, and walking the dog.
But hot summer days are just that: hot. So let your family’s preference for early mornings or late evenings dictate their most active outdoor time.
It also helps to gravitate toward the coolest places. Dave Stevenson of Highland, Utah, takes his four kids ages 4 to 9 to the local mountains where the higher elevation means lower temperatures and often a creek or stream for a fun splash. Locations near an ocean or lake are cooler as well. Those of use who don’t live near mountains or lakes can still find tree-shaded parks and trails.
The basic safeguards
As the sun becomes intense, little cheeks glow pink with sun, heat, and exertion, so have a few basic protections in place. Sun-protective clothing is becoming more popular these days, and The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends tightly-woven fabrics that are dark or brightly colored for effective protection. It also endorses adding Sun Guard to your laundry to increase the sun protection of clothing.
Slather exposed skin with sunscreen a good half hour before heading out to ensure it has time to absorb. A broad-brimmed hat or visor and sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light are great, too.
“Hydrate!” is the summertime mantra. This is not the season to let thirst dictate when the kids drink. They need to swig water more frequently than they feel thirsty, especially when outdoors, so have more water than you’ll need to keep it flowing.
Resist the temptation to serve sports drinks or soda, which often have caffeine, a diuretic, as well as added sugars. Water is the best option for kids, and it’s easy to add zing with frozen berries or even a splash of fruit juice to lightly sweeten it. Fruit smoothies, frozen juice, yogurt or fruit pops, and frozen grapes or mango chunks are cooling and hydrating, and make a special hot weather treat.
When even the coolest times of the day are anything but, it’s important to know when to call it quits and come inside. Nausea, dizziness, racing heartbeat, headache, or paleness can be signs of heat-related illness, according to the Heat Illness Prevention and Hydration Tips from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Medicine Program. Staying hydrated and taking frequent breaks are the best prevention.
Swimming is one of the easiest ways to address summertime fitness, says Trent Ray Nessler, area vice president of Physiotherapy Associates (a nationwide family of 600 outpatient rehabilitation facilities) in Birmingham, Alabama. Swimming also happens to be one of the most anticipated and fun activities of the season.
Ideal for children of any age, swimming opportunities are easy to find at the local community center, neighborhood high school, YMCA, and many gyms. Swimming “addresses strength, endurance, and balance, which are important for kids,” says Nessler. Swimming scores huge points in the fun category too, a priority for both kids and their parents.
Keep it fun
As with so many other aspects of parenting children, fun really is the most important factor in motivating and engaging kids into activities that encourage physical fitness.
If there’s a sport in which your child is interested, there are sport-specific summer camps from soccer and baseball to gymnastics and diving. Dance and musical theater camps are great options for those who are artistically inclined.
On days when the hot air feels too heavy to move, it’s time to move indoors. Community centers, the YMCA, and commercial outlets like rock-climbing gyms and kids’ gyms not only offer day camps and classes, but most also offer open drop-in times for parents to bring their kids for an hour of activity at a nominal fee.
Jumping gyms and bounce houses are big these days. Kids can let loose in huge warehouse-sized gyms where they are encouraged to jump, climb, slide, and run in an air-conditioned haven.
Nessler often takes advantage of his local kids’ gym, where he and his 5-year-old son can burn off some energy in an air-conditioned setting and try out the trampoline, rings, and some tumbling. This is hot weather exercising at its best. From a fitness perspective, Nessler says indoor gyms are “off the chart.”
After bouncing with his son, he says, “By the end of 30 or 60 minutes, you walk out of there completely drenched,” and no doubt smiling. Not only fun, this activity builds endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. “For young kids,” Nessler explains, “it’s extremely important to get a sense of body and space, especially during growth spurts” when they experience so many physical changes.
On the cheap
Treats like camps and jumping gyms are great, but can quickly eat away a summertime budget. Fortunately, hot weather activities don’t have to be limited by money, only by imagination.
You can’t go wrong with outdoor water play. The great thing with water is, the hotter the weather, the cooler it is to get drenched! Between sprinklers, garden hose, an inflatable pool, water balloons, a slip ‘n’ slide, and squirt guns, the kids will stay active and happy. Incorporate several water toys into a backyard obstacle course or relay, and kids will really get their hearts pumping.
Activities don’t have to be relegated to the backyard. Indoors, kids can log their progress on physical fitness activities like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. Parents can help them set goals and keep track of weekly improvements.
Yoga is very kid-friendly for all ages. Little ones enjoy the animal poses, and older kids like to succeed at challenging movements. Many books and videos cater to yoga for children.
Learning a dance, making one up, or just groovin’ to some tunes gets lots of heart-pumping adrenaline going. Mini relays with silly movements like leap frog or crab walks are worth a few giggles as well.
Kids love to make and participate in scavenger hunts. Add a physical twist where the kids have to do jumping jacks or push-ups before they get the next clue.
As Trent Ray Nessler says, “The biggest limitation is creativity. You can make anything physical.” The goal is getting the heart rate up with an activity that is constantly evolving and engaging for your child. For kids and parents, that means having fun together, no matter the weather.
Lori Zanteson is a Southern California-based writer and mother of three who specializes in health, food, and fitness for families.