Make walking a family affair

Boost your heart rate and share some quality time with these easy ideas

Imagine an activity that does great things for your body – like muscle toning and calorie blasting – and helps you strengthen your relationships at the same time. Sound too good to be true? It’s not – it’s as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.

Family members who walk together can develop a special bond, says Dr. James Mandigo, associate professor of physical education and kinesiology at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ont. “It can have the same effect as the time you spend together enjoying family dinners.” Here’s how some walkers are hoofing it with family members and reaping the rewards.

Inspire your kids with nature

Almost every day, the Vossen family charges out the door to the three-kilometre walking trail that loops through their Antigonish, N.S. property and down to the ocean. “We see fox and seals on the beach – a whale if we’re really lucky,” says Jeff, father of Madelyn, 4, and Oliver, 6. It’s his children’s fascination with nature that motivates them to walk, according to Jeff. “We keep them busy looking for moss and eagles.” Organization and flexibility are important too. Pack snacks, jackets and a child carrier for little ones who can’t walk the entire way, he advises. And gauge the moods of your children: “We turn back after 10 minutes sometimes, and that’s fine. We’ll be out again another day.”

Get a gadget

Single parent Jonathan Eaton, a Toronto lawyer, bought a pedometer for his nine-year-old son Thomas to help squeeze more exercise into their busy lives. Now when it’s time for errands or the 20-minute trip to pick up seven-year-old Amelia from her after-school program, it’s not a battle to get Thomas moving. He doesn’t care that the nifty $30 step counter is boosting his activity level. “It’s just fun,” he shrugs. “And I like trying to beat yesterday’s score!”

When Brian Hopkins, a 65-year-old retired geologist of Sorrento, B.C., had a stroke three years ago, his wife Elaine found that Nordic walking poles were the high-tech tool that turned him on to walking. “We Nordic walk two kilometres to get the mail every day,” says Elaine, 66, who was already an avid walker. “It gives Brian more energy and confidence, and it gives us more time to talk. It’s more fun than walking on your own.”

Hit the mall

Mall-walking is a great activity for couples to do together, but it’s also an easy way to make friends, says Fern Olson, leader of the Valley Fair Mall-Walking Club in Maple Ridge, B.C. “Some couples walk together, but others of us team up with people who walk at our own pace. Either way, interesting conversation always makes the time go quickly,” says Fern. Mall-walking can also be a fun way for teens and their mothers to window shop, gab and exercise all at once. Arrive early before the crowds build, and walk a few laps before starting your shopping.

Find an unlikely walking partner

Mary Elliott, of London, Ont., recently discovered that her granddaughter is the perfect walking partner. Most of Mary’s friends have trouble walking at her speed. But eight-year-old Jessica sets a perfect pace when she rides alongside on her scooter. According to Mary, “It’s a wonderful time for us to have long uninterrupted conversations that we might not otherwise have.”