Planning an Active Summer
With summer just around the corner, now’s the time to start planning how to take advantage of the longer days and warmer temperatures. In particular, it’s time to start thinking about how you will stay active this summer and how you might take your physical activity program to new heights by exercising outdoors, scheduling active weekend outings, and perhaps even planning an activity-oriented summer vacation such as a bike tour or walking tour.
Outdoor activities can be a lot of fun, and they’re also good for your health. Working regular physical activity into your lifestyle can help reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as help you manage your blood sugar. Important data from a study published in the journal Diabetes Care showed that stationary biking three days a week for 45 minutes improved insulin sensitivity by 46%.
Regular physical activity can also help prevent diabetes, so if your friends or family members need a little extra encouragement to join you in your physical activities, let them know what a great thing they’re doing for their health. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a major three-year clinical trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health, showed that in 3,234 people with impaired glucose tolerance (often called prediabetes), those who walked or exercised five times a week for 30 minutes (150 minutes total per week) lost 5% to 7% of their body weight (approximately 12–15 pounds) and reduced their risk of diabetes by 58%. For people over the age of 60, the reduction in diabetes risk was a whopping 71%.
If you’ve made physical activity a priority this year and have improved your conditioning, what better way to put all that fitness to good use than to take an active holiday or enjoy an active weekend? For those of you who haven’t quite reached the get-up-and-go stage, the prospect of an active summer weekend or vacation might be just the motivation you need to lace up your sneakers and start exercising.
Before you call your travel agent, take a few moments to think about the type of activity you’d like to do and what you’re capable of doing. Would you enjoy a guided nature walk or group bird-watching outing on gentle paths? Or would you prefer a rugged hike in the woods or mountains? Are you fit enough for a bike tour through the vineyards of northern California? Or would a historic walking tour through the villages of Vermont suit you better? There are dozens of activities to choose from in your own hometown, across the United States, and throughout the world.
Perhaps the simplest, safest, least expensive, and most convenient form of physical activity is walking. You can do it anywhere, anytime, with just a pair of sturdy shoes. You can do it alone, with a partner, or with a group in structured or informal walking activities. Here are some of the many choices.
Urban parks. City parks are wonderful places to walk and enjoy nature close to home. Urban park rangers in most city parks lead theme tours throughout the year, and many are free of charge. Call your local recreation department or park headquarters for details.
Walking and biking clubs. Clubs offer the chance to meet new people and to try new walking or biking routes. All major cities and some smaller ones have them. Most clubs sponsor events (walking clubs sometimes team up with local running events), and many offer instruction for free or for a small charge. Contact your local running, biking, or sporting goods store, or attend a local walking, running, or biking event to find out about clubs in your area. Clubs and stores are also great resources to find out about biking vacations and walking tours.
Volkssport. Volkssport clubs in every state organize noncompetitive walk, bicycle, swim, and cross-country ski events for people of all ages. They are not contests of speed or endurance, but rather family-oriented activities that promote participation in recreational activities for fun, fitness, and friendship. Participants can walk, jog, run, or use a wheelchair. Each event is given a trail rating, and routes are set out so that you finish at the starting point. The most common distances are 5, 10, and 20 kilometers (3.1, 6.2, and 12.4 miles).
Bird-watching. In 1991, more than 24 million Americans took field trips for the express purpose of watching wild birds. In general, bird-watching is not too vigorous, although the equipment — binoculars, cameras, tripods, zoom lenses, etc. — can get heavy after hours of walking. The amount of walking depends on the group and its goals, but almost all trips involve a fair amount of standing in one place to watch (or look for) birds.
The American Birding Association is the largest bird-watching organization in North America. Although they don’t run field trips themselves, they endorse tours run by operators who have a proven record of competence and quality. There are many tours to choose from, both nationally and internationally.
The National Audubon Society, an organization with over 600,000 members, 508 chapters in the Americas, and 100 Audubon Sanctuaries and nature centers nationwide, organizes field trips through local chapters — many of which are open to nonmembers for a nominal charge — and guided bird-watching vacations through local chapters and the national organization. Call or visit their website to find a chapter near you.
Mall walking. Not ready for walking outdoors? Many of America’s shopping malls have organized walking clubs, and many open their doors early for walkers. It’s a great way to get out of the weather and away from traffic, and restrooms and water are never far away. Membership is usually free. You can find out more by stopping by the mall office or contacting them by phone.