A recent New York Times article discussed and confirmed that the amount of exercise performed by young rats in early life can impact the number of cells present in their later mature hearts. The study further noted that the exercise performed in the early years by the rats made their hearts larger and thereby, more efficient and healthier as they matured. While the study involved rodents it potentially has interesting human implications, noting that “[a] heart attack kills tens of millions of cells in an instant; a reserve of cardiac muscle cells built up during childhood could conceivably affect the likelihood of surviving an attack as an adult, as well as influence how well a heart functions over the course of a lifetime.” Yet another benefit to maintain an active lifestyle and encourage exercise and activity at a young age.
Growing up on a small horse farm in Maryland, I spent a large part of my free time participating in outdoor activities and living an active lifestyle. On weekends, my sisters and I were usually at various 4-H, Pony Club, or other sporting events, or otherwise taking care of our animals. Before and after school, we had barn chores, which included feeding animals and cleaning stalls. While no longer living on a farm, maintaining an active lifestyle remains important to our family. Here are a 5 ways that we stay active as a family today:
ONE // Our dogs. My husband and I adopted our first dog after getting married from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. Our second dog came shortly thereafter. The two of them are quite the pair (big & little, the latter with the “big” personality), are family, and go almost everywhere with us. They add so much fun and energy to our family and day-to-day life, from playing ball, exploring new walks, and playing and/or cuddling in the house. I am of the school of thought that animals nurture the spirit and are good for the soul. They also keep you active and teach responsibility to little ones. That said, while animal ownership is exceptionally rewarding it is also a lot of work. Do not get a dog if you are not prepared for the responsibility + work.
TWO // Pre and Post Dinner Walks. With our dogs, packaging walks into our day is somewhat easy, if not mandatory. But regardless of the dogs, we enjoy getting outside as much as we can even for 15 minutes or so pre- and post dinner for a walk and/or playtime with our dogs and son.
THREE // Park time. We have a number of nearby parks that we frequent that are walking distance (extra exercise!)—most of them are also dog friendly so that we can exercise the dogs and play with our son. Time permitting, we drive and explore other parks in the area for variety.
FOUR // Indoor games. Weather can impact our outdoor plans so we have our house set up with various indoor toys and games (e.g. a mini basketball hoop) so that we can stay active and not in front of the TV on days when the weather is bad.
FIVE // Walks and Exploring on the C & O Canal. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (“C & O Canal”) is in my opinion, a local “treasure”, and one of our favorite spots in the DC/MD area. It operated from 1831-1924 along the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD, spanning ~184.5 miles. The views are breathtaking and it is a haven for wildlife and plants. As a family, we love taking the dogs there for walks and exploring nature. Every lock has unique details. Consider a hike on the Billy Goat Trail (not dog or little one friendly, however), stop in for a post hike beer or cocktail at Old Angler’s Inn (it has a great outdoor patio area), and check out Riley’s lock, a family favorite.
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