Kick Off the Summer by Connecting with Nature

(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)

June 8 is Family Health & Fitness Day. Here at LEAP Foundation DC, we’re all about prevention now for success later. This means we offer activities that build character, present challenges, teach life lessons and provide healthy alternatives to otherwise unhealthy choices. Regular physical activity not only is a great way to help the youth in your life form healthy habits, it also helps prevent obesity, which can lead to serious diseases later in life.

Make plans with your family or mentees to try out new ways to add some fitness to your life. We’ve come up with a few that make great summertime activities, but the options are endless.

Kayaking

The motion of moving the paddle can offer a really great workout for the arms, shoulders, back and chest. In addition, assuming you aren’t floating lazily down a river, kayaking can increase the heart rate and offer a great cardiovascular workout. On the other hand, if a relaxing time is what you’re after, be sure to really take in your surroundings. Pay attention to the way the water ripples, enjoy the surrounding trees or foliage, breathe in the outdoor air and listen to the sounds as you pass by various locations. And while it’s ok to soak up some of the Vitamin D offered by the sun, be sure to stock up on sunscreen and lip care and bring along a wide-rimmed hat and sunglasses.

Hiking

Hiking offers as many mental health benefits as it does physical. Connecting with nature through smell, sight and sound have been known to decrease stress levels and have a positive effect on anxiety and depression. In addition, hiking can help lower body fat, build muscle, lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart.

Gardening

Much like hiking, gardening presents an opportunity to directly connect with the earth, allowing us to feel more grounded, calm and present. The act of planting and maintaining a garden offers a low-impact physical activity for the entire body and it provides a great place to gather family and young people to work toward a common goal. It can be incredibly satisfying not only to see the fruits of one’s labor, but to enjoy a meal that was organically grown and brought directly from the ground to the kitchen.

Beach volleyball

While not everyone has access to the ocean, many lakes offer a beachside location for enjoying the sand and sun. Beach volleyball is an incredible activity for those who enjoy the sport, but want to kick things up a notch. Simply walking in the sand can be a great workout for the legs, but running, diving, jumping and kicking through it can multiply the benefits of participating in a game of volleyball. If you have the space and enjoy this sport as much as we do, creating a backyard beach volleyball setup can be an inexpensive way to encourage all your friends and family to join in the fun and fitness.