3 Ways to Increase Physical Activity this Spring

Happy day light savings time! The first day of “spring forward” usually isn’t too bad, it’s the second and third day where the grogginess will start setting in. At least that means the days are getting longer. The midwest went from crippling cold in the polar vortex to our first taste of spring in a short amount of time and we couldn’t be happier.

With the longer days and warmer temperatures on the way, there are many opportunities to get outside and be more active, and the Frankfort, Mokena, and New Lenox region has many great locations to get outside and be more active with the family.

Before we get into the recommendations, let’s discuss what I mean by physical activity. I view physical activity as being different from exercise. One of the keys to long term health and sustained weight loss is simply being physically active. Many people (including Dr. Anna and myself in the past) view exercise as our only means of physical activity. Let’s look at it this way: there are 24 hours in a day, many folks go to the gym to exercise for one hour a day and consider themselves to be physically active. For many years, this was the view that Dr. Anna and myself both had. One hour of exercise a day is fantastic, but what are we doing for the remaining 23 hours? Studies have shown that often times an hour of intense exercise a day causes some people to have decreased physical activity levels for the remaining 23 hours a day which ultimately leads to lower levels of daily energy expenditure (calories burned during the entire day). If you are heading to the gym each day for an hour, keep it up, but don’t neglect the other 23 hours each day. Do your best to remain active during multiple bouts the rest of the hours you are awake.

Here are some simple tips for keeping the family active these spring and summer months.

  1. 10,000 steps a day. Why 10,000 steps a day? Is 10,000 a magic number? Nope. 10,000 steps is actually a very arbitrary number that was started by a Japanese company that was making pedometers and urging people to hit the 10,000 step count simply just to become more active. Even though 10,000 steps is an arbitrary number, it has shown itself to be a good goal for baseline physical activity. Where a lot of folks get this approach wrong is they set out to try and hit 10,000 steps in a single walk. On the surface, that makes sense to try and get the steps knocked out early in the day, it is much easier to knock them out over the course of the day and spread activity out. One way I recommend doing this is to dedicate 15-20 minutes after each meal to go for a walk. Seems easy, right? Maybe too easy? This simple strategy has been shown to improve blood sugar and insulin markers, decrease inflammation, and lead to weight loss for folks who are newer to physical activity. Those are all fantastic benefits for a minimal amount of commitment.Another simple way to add up the steps is by walking to small errands, or simply parking at the farthest reaches of parking lots to increase the amount of time walking.

  2. Looking for ways to get your kids active during E-learning and summer break? Of course, I am always an advocate for team sports, but those usually only meet a couple times a week. How do we keep kids active and what kinds of activities do kids need? According to strength and fitness expert Dan John, kids do very well with activities that involve pursuit and escape…tag and hide and seek, for instance. Get the kids out to the playground and play tag with them. Not only is this a fun way for kids to get out and get moving, it’s a fantastic way to develop physical skills and aerobic fitness in kids. Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that kids love playing games like tag, hide and seek, and dodgeball. These games teach very basic human skills like chasing and evading.

  3. Last, get outdoors. Within a 10-20 minute drive we have Hickory Creek forest preserve, Midewin National Grasslands, Orland Grasslands, Old Plank Trail, and many more. This time year is an excellent time to get outside and do some hiking. Does hiking bore you? Try searching for Morel mushrooms. Or maybe head out and look for deer antler sheds (this is the time of year that male deer lose their antlers). See if you can get out into the woods and find the ever elusive wild turkey that are out and about looking for a springtime companion. Take the kids with you and give them some experience in the outdoors looking broadening their horizons beyond the screens they’ve been staring at for school the past year. We enjoy taking the bikes out to Midewin and riding to forested areas and searching for deer antler sheds and maybe even some young fawns out with their moms.

While some of these seem very simple and may not seem like exercise, the goal of these activities isn’t to be a great workout. The goal is to put more baseline aerobic activity into your lives on top of regular exercise. Like I said before, exercise is fantastic but we should always be seeking ways to increase our physical activity on top of regular scheduled trips to the gym.

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