The National Recreation and Parks Association has designated the second Saturday of June (this year, June 13) as Family Health & Fitness Day. They want to highlight how local parks can play an important role in the health and fitness of communities. Their goal this year is to have recreation and parks departments across the country participate in “sharing ways families can get active while practicing safe physical distancing.” (You can see their website for more specific information.)
According to a 2019 systematic review, the strongest determinants of physical activity in early childhood are the environment (access to parks and open spaces for play and exploration) and the adoption of an active lifestyle by the family, particularly the mother. Other studies show increasing the physical activity levels of fathers has been found to increase the physical activity levels of girls while also improving their fundamental movement skill proficiency (kicking, catching, throwing, hopping, skipping). Parents model behavior for their children. If the family culture includes physical activity, children get the impression early on that physical activity is fun and an important part of life. It is also a great way for families to bond.
Physical activity levels, motor skill proficiency, and cognitive skill development are also better when children have time for free play, which is unstructured time when children can explore and use their imagination. Free play outside where they have ample space and opportunity for multisensory (using sight, sound, smell, and touch), whole body experiences (navigating uneven terrain, climbing, crouching, crawling) gives children the opportunity to really discover and learn through play. Being physically active outside is also a fun way for adults to connect with nature and experience health benefits such as stress reduction and improvements in mood.
The current pandemic has changed the rules for using public parks, trails and open spaces, but as states are relaxing some shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, access to these places may improve. Find out how your local parks are following guidelines so you can stay safe while getting outside and being active as a family on Saturday, June 13. Use this opportunity as a starting point to increase or continue physical activity for your family. Be healthy together!
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2. Morgan PJ et al. Engaging fathers to increase physical activity in girls: the “Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered” (DADEE) randomized controlled trial. Ann Behav Med. 2018; XX:1–14.
3. Hanscom A. The decline of play in preschoolers—and the rise in sensory issues. The Washington Post Online. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/09/01/the-decline-of-play-in-preschoolers-and-the-rise-in-sensory-issues/
4. Gladwell VF et al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme Physiology & Medicine. 2013; 2:3.