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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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On the sunny side: Ideas to help families get outdoors this fall

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 24, 2017

Fall’s shortening daylight hours pinches the time that families have outdoors for sun and fresh air.

One seasonal answer is to think about short bursts, like a short nature walk. Even 10-minute increments benefit mood and health.

Some easy examples include: Do a quick stroll to view fall leaves. Park the car as far as possible from a store entrance. Schedule a walking business meeting. Stroll across the park when kids are at a sports practice.

“We spend most of our day as youth in schools, and then as adults usually working,” said Heleen Dewey, with Spokane Regional Health District. “Sometimes, it’s just getting our body working in whatever situation we’re in.

“A lot of research has shown that it’s not just the health benefits of physical activity and being outdoors, but there are the cognitive benefits, too. We learn better when we’re active. We remember what we’ve learned better.”

Dewey leads the SRHD’s Active Living program that promotes more physical activity for Spokane residents as part of daily routines. The work supports initiatives for walking as well as biking safely to schools and for city infrastructure to create safe walking and cycling paths.

Schools also offer after-school clubs starting in elementary grades to introduce kids to easy outdoor activities they can continue at home and with families, from cross-country running to disc golf, said Lisa White, with Spokane Public Schools.

Before sunset, families this time of year can think about squeezing in a short jaunt on a trail or nearby park to talk about seasonal changes, White added.

“I can’t think of a neighborhood in Spokane that doesn’t have beautiful trees and parks,” she said. “Our parks are amazing. We tend to get off work and think about let’s run this errand or that, instead of taking 30 minutes and enjoying this part of light we have, because winter’s coming soon.”

Other quick ways to build in outdoor activity is to encourage kids to walk or bike to school if they can do so safely, and they tend to arrive in the classroom energized and ready to learn, Dewey said.

Schools routinely schedule daily outdoor recess for children, a held-to policy except for extreme weather or air-quality issues. Among facilities of Spokane Public Schools, for example, each principal makes the call if extreme conditions warrant keeping children indoors for recess.

SPS district policy reads, “Experts agree that outdoor exercise benefits student learning and behavior, as long as the students are properly dressed for the conditions.”

Adults need similar mini-breaks, preferably taken outside, Dewey said.

“We put so much pressure on ourselves about getting enough physical activity because we know the health benefits,” Dewey added. “We have to remember that is also flexible. We can look at things we do normally every day and do them just a little differently to ensure our bodies are moving.”

It might get a little trickier for adults working all day at a desk, but Dewey has ideas for that as well. People might walk to a business meeting near their own offices if possible. Some professionals plan a 30-minute “walking business meeting” on the Centennial Trail to discuss work concerns.

“I’ve found that for meetings at City Hall or at the school district offices, it’s actually quicker for me to walk than it is to drive and find parking,” Dewey said. “That’s kind of double benefit. I don’t have to pay for parking and it’s quicker to walk.”

To help children, parents should have some awareness about how active their kids have been during the day, she said. Ask children what they did in P.E. or at recess, to know if plans for the remainder of the day should build in outside play or a family walk.

Under Centers for Disease Control guidelines, children and adolescents need about 60 minutes a day or more of physical activity, and outdoor fun such as hopscotch or jump-roping helps build muscle and bone strength.

The recommendations encourage adults to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, which Dewey equates to brisk walking or going on a bike ride.

“It doesn’t have to be structured physical activity,” Dewey said. “We don’t necessarily have to get a membership to a gym. If we can incorporate physical activity into our lives as adults, even 10 minutes at time, we can still see the health benefits.

“If we live in neighborhoods and have less than a half a mile to the library or even to the grocery store – in the evenings or on weekends – it’s thinking about rather than driving, can we walk together as a family?”

Among some of her favorite childhood memories, White walked in Manito Park with her grandmother and watched changes in a nearby chestnut tree.

“That was the coolest thing, that these spiky green balls would fall from the tree and you could open them up and there were seeds inside,” she said. “We made crafts out of them.”

Even now, White makes a point to get away from work to take daily strolls on the Centennial Trail.

“I feel so much more energized and I remind myself, all this stuff is around me and it’s so beautiful, and peaceful too.”

Here are five other ways to ensure keeping breaths of fresh air within shortened daylight hours:

Walk whenever possible to a destination or for recreation. Walking is the No. 1 activity people report they don’t give up at any age while other exercise drops off, Dewey said. For recommended muscle-building activity at least twice a week, people on a walk can stop to do a few push-ups against a wall and some squats. Even taking a transit bus tends to start and end with walking, Dewey added.

Start a parent-led group in a neighborhood for a walk or biking route to school if a neighborhood has safe sidewalks and paths. Spokane Regional Health District has a formal Walking-Bus program for volunteer-led walking routes for kids at Bemiss, Holmes, Stevens and Logan elementary schools.

Use technology in a different way. A smartphone app or Fitbit can track daily steps. Many devices today help you set a goal and receive alerts that it’s time to get up and move away from four walls. White suggests handing a smartphone to a kid so they can snap a picture of trees or a natural setting, then do so again in a couple of weeks, to open up conversations about seasonal changes. Children love to talk with weather, plants and predictions of what will happen next and why it’s important.

Partner with a co-worker, neighbor, or family member to stay accountable and head out for a run or walk. Dewey has a coworker who schedules regular walks in the calendar for them to walk while they’re discussing work. Research indicates that people are more efficient on the job if they focus on tasks for the bulk of the hour and then step out to enjoy nature for five or 10 minutes.

Consider heading outdoors as a way to unplug, think through a problem, or share focused time with others. Spokane offers multiple seasonal outdoor activities, parks and quick access to nature such as Centennial Trail near the Spokane River.

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