Health Library: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Take a Hike to Family Fitness

Tell your kids to take a hike -- and go with them. Even if you live in the city, you can still get out for a walk together to a city park or to the store. The whole family can find fun and fitness outdoors.

Exercise decreases the risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure for everyone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you're used to walking or hiking without the kids, a family outing may be a different experience. Kids focus less on where they're going and more on the things around them. They may be curious about every bird, building or tree, so plan to stop a lot.

If you are able to hike in a more rugged area, here are some tips from the American Hiking Society, Safer Child and other groups:

  • Chose a hike that suits your kids' ages and abilities. Children can tire easily, and little bodies get hot and cold before big bodies. Younger children won't be as sure on their feet in uneven terrain.

  • Teach kids about safety hazards. What does poison ivy look like? Why is it a bad idea to put rocks in their mouths? Why shouldn't they try to pet the squirrels?

  • Always give someone your itinerary, no matter how short the hike. Say how long you plan to be gone, where you're going and the trails you plan to take.

  • Do your homework. Get maps, learn about the area and check weather conditions.

  • Dress right. Just because it's 80 degrees when you start out doesn't mean it won't be 50 degrees as you come back. Pack an extra layer of warmth. Bring hats and rain-gear, too. Wear proper footwear such as hiking boots or trail sneakers to provide proper support and traction in mud and on slippery surfaces.

  • Carry basic survival gear. The American Red Cross recommends every hiker carry a small waterproof container with a pocketknife, compass, whistle, space blanket, nylon thread, water purification tablets, matches and candle.

  • Take plenty of high-energy snacks and drinking water.

  • Let children carry their gear in a kid-sized backpack. The weight shouldn't exceed 10 to 20 percent of their total body weight.

  • Apply sunscreen and insect repellent. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply several ounces to exposed skin 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Apply sunscreen before you apply insect repellent. Use insect repellent with no more than 30 percent DEET on children. Sunscreens should not be used on infants younger than 6 months.

  • Keep a close eye on your children. That can be easier if you dress them in bright, easy-to-see colors. Give them a whistle to blow if they get lost.