Fun and fit vacation ideas for the whole family

Try these recreation suggestions for staying active while getting respite

The many health benefits of regular physical activity include the reduced risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and other diseases. This helps to prevent high healthcare costs and improves the quality of life for all ages. Combining physical fitness and vacationing is actually very simple and can be fun for the whole family, but is it necessary? And if it’s necessary, then why is it important to stay active on vacation as well as any other day? Retired family physician and Polk County Medical Association member, Dr. Paul Tanner Jr. observes, “Actually, we should stay just as active while vacationing because we tend to eat more.” Practicing regular physical activity can lead to a stronger heart, a positive mental outlook, and a chance to remain independent as one gets older, so keeping up an active lifestyle even when on vacation is essential, but experiencing something new in order to stay active while on a retreat is only part of the fun.

Dr. Robert Merritt, an Otolaryngologist at Barranco Clinic and Polk County Medical Assocation member, is a husband and father of three who has taken great pleasure in being active with his family, even when on vacation. “In our normal routine, the younger girls are active in soccer, volleyball, and tennis. Our eldest who is now in college enjoys running and aerobic classes, and my wife Beth regularly plays tennis,” explains Dr. Merritt. “But while on vacation, some of the activities we all enjoy are snorkeling and beach volleyball.”

To get you in the spirit of being active, here are some suggestions to get the whole family moving while enjoying the sights and sounds of a new adventure together.

Put on your walking shoes

Walking is something most people can fit into their vacation plans with ease. Take a walk down memory lane in some of the oldest cities in the country, such as Jamestown, Virginia; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Albany, New York; or Plymouth, Massachusetts. Florida’s oldest city, St. Augustine for example, offers Adlib Liberty Tours that will take you through the historical walking album with guide Karen Harvey. Clad in her authentic era ensemble from “ye olde days,” you will be taken back in time to see firsthand some of the Sunshine State’s most alluring sites.

This is a low impact activity that even grandparents can participate in on a family retreat. Like other exercises, walking can help improve health in the following ways: Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also known as the “bad” cholesterol); raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (the “good” cholesterol); lower your blood pressure; reduce your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes; help manage your weight; improve your mood; and of course, help you stay strong and fit.

Other family ideas for walking could include a nature trail. In Florida alone, you could practically close your eyes, place your finger on a map, and it would land not too far from a beautiful nature trail, but there are many places around the country and world where a family can enjoy this quality time outdoors. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail spans across 14 states from Maine to Georgia, while the Pacific Crest Trail zigzags from Mexico to California and up into Canada, which means it passes through six out of the seven North American ecozones. Executive Director of the Polk County Medical Association Jackie Courtney says, “When my kids were younger we went up to north Georgia many times and did waterfall hikes. We brought along picnic lunches and the kids would play in the streams and ponds.  Blue Ridge Parkway is spectacular with so many sites to pull off and do short hikes and it’s great for finding animal tracks, as well as different trees and flowers. I think there is nothing better than walking through a stream of cold water and enjoying nature with family.”

Enjoy a new experience

There’s something to be said about a new experience that both parents and their children can enjoy together. Try something new while you’re on vacation that you can bring back with you and turn into a regular bonding experience, such as surfing or horseback riding lessons. Dr. Merritt points out, “During our vacations, we try to mix up the venues to make sure we do something new for everyone, and we include some pampering, so it’s not all exploration and activity.” Endeavoring in a new experience with your family not only creates lasting memories but lasting relationships.

Medical experts agree, however, that certain precautions should be taken when enjoying any kind of new activity. Make sure to consult your physician before trying something new that could be a physical challenge. Your doctor will be able to help you determine what level of physical activity would be best for your current state of health.

Dr. Tanner adds, “Staying hydrated is very important due to the heat because, more often than not, vacations are taken during the summer when children are out of school and things tend to be slower at work.” He also makes the point to wear plenty of sunscreen, pack a first aid kit, and be aware of the nearest medical facility where you are staying. Also, consider whether your cell phone provider offers good reception to the area where you’ll be traveling. In the event that your cellular service is poor or non-existent, have a plan on how to get help in the event of an emergency.

Get more than just your feet wet

Besides the ways to enjoy each other on dry land, there are a variety of options to get more than just your feet wet with quality time. From something as simple as a dip in the ocean to a unique experience like swimming with dolphins, or a new challenge like kayaking and whitewater rafting, there’s something for everyone when it comes to quality time in the water.

The dolphin encounter at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, for example, gives you class time in the water with an actual dolphin. You are welcomed to watch sessions before and after the “aqua class.” The Dolphin Dip hastens you to splash it up with these delightful and playful, yet intelligent creatures of the deep. They will dance with you, spin with you and then just give you some fun and friendly splashes to let you know they’ve enjoyed your company.

Snorkeling is another fun water activity that doubles as a form of muscle strengthening. The only equipment needed is a mask, snorkel, and fins. Those suffering from joint pain or are limited in their mobility could benefit from this kind of recreational exercise. Exercising while in the water reduces the impact from other activities such as jogging or walking. Whether you are moving your arms, legs or back, you are forcing your muscles to push against the natural flow of the water, thus giving your whole body a workout while exploring the waters below.

When recalling his favorites family vacation, Dr. Merritt shares, “We went to New Mexico for Spring Break about four years ago. We skied at Taos for four days, and then drove around the state for the remainder of our trip, visiting Carlsbad caverns, staying at a bed and breakfast with natural hot springs, sliding down sand dunes in the desert, and hiking to the cliff dwellings.” Dr. Merritt emphasizes that it’s not so much the activity itself that makes the vacation memorable as the joy of having the new experience with the people who matter most.



Accessibility Toolbar