Whether your goals for 2017 involve a narrower waistline, speedier 5K or just a longer and happier life, they’ll be well served by getting out and getting active with your family. Though the Southland has no shortage of gym memberships and specialty fitness classes, it also offers plenty of free – and fun! – workouts you and your kids will love.
This might sound great when the fresh calendar year has us looking forward to making positive change, but we all know how good intentions can fall by the wayside as the daily routine of work, school and after-school activities begins. The key to success is to make it fun. “It’s important to have fun, so it’s not this thing we have to follow,” says Carolyn Buenaflor, who runs the Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits programs in 18 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “If you’re enjoying it, you’re more likely to stick with it.”
That fun is heightened when parents and kids are active together. “It’s about doing more together, bringing the family together – this is our emphasis,” says Buenaflor.
Lead by Example
To get your kids moving, take the lead. “Children imitate parents,” says Sean Hashmi, M.D., board certified internist, nephrologist and obesity medicine specialist and the adult weight management lead for Southern California Kaiser Permanente. “Create this family bonding time. We’re not talking exercise, but a quality of lifestyle. This is about creating a lifestyle around your family that you can be proud of.”
Hashmi, who practices at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, has done his part by advocating for walking paths at the facility. Now there is a path at every Kaiser facility for walkers, runners and those who have disabilities. They’re open to the entire community and are completely free. “We all have to lead by example,” he says. “You have to be the change you want to see in the world.”
But don’t let your New Year’s enthusiasm make you overdo it exercise wise. “Once a week, that’s plenty,” says Hashmi. “Small steps of change make a difference. Too much, and you run out of fuel and crash.”
As long as you’re moving at a pace where everyone is able to talk comfortably, the focus will naturally be on having fun and no one will feel like it’s exercise. It’s a good idea to throw in some intervals, too, Hashmi says. Try including intermittent bursts of walking faster, then slower, which will spike the kids’ interest and burn more calories. Before you know it, that leisurely weekly or twice-weekly walk around the block will evolve into jogging, neighborhood bike rides and hikes in the local hills.
Workout activities can be super simple – doing 20 jumping jacks together during TV commercial breaks, cleaning the house, gardening or dancing together. “Working out and exercising doesn’t have to be workout clothes,” says Buenaflor. “We encourage families to break it up, even into 10-minute increments throughout the day.” Getting your heart rate up is all that really matters, though Buenaflor recommends working to build strength and flexibility as well, and keeping workouts varied so the body burns more calories.
Destination workouts are a great way to make physical activity an adventure, especially in beautiful Southern California. There is no shortage of hikes, walking paths, stair-climbs, circuit trainings, parks and beaches to lure your family outdoors. Here’s a sampling of some great picks to explore.
Hike to the Hollywood sign. This is one of L.A.’s most iconic spots, with giant letters to motivate the kids to the top and lure them in for a selfie to show their friends. The Mt. Hollywood Trail has two starting points, both in Griffith Park. The shorter, a three-mile loop, begins at the north end of the Griffith Observatory parking lot (2800 E. Observatory Rd., L.A.). The route is easy and picturesque, with native chaparral, pines and wildflowers. The Canyon Drive Trail is a 6.5-mile trek that climbs more than 1,000 feet, ending behind the Hollywood sign. Parking is close to the trailhead at the end of Canyon Drive, near a little side route to the Bat Cave (Bronson Caves), where “Batman” of the 1960s TV series parked the Batmobile! The kids can walk right in and explore.
Walk, jog, bike and paddle at the Lake Balboa Recreation Area in Van Nuys. No matter what your family’s favorite mode – or speed – of transportation, you can make it happen here. Bring your own wheels or rent them at the park. Choose from a variety of surreys, bikes (including tandems), kids trailers or tag-a-longs to attach to an adult’s bike and take a tour around the lake or on one of several bike paths in the park. In the center of it all is the 27-acre lake, aflutter with ducks, geese and other waterfowl, which can be admired from the shore or from small watercraft such as paddleboats and kayaks. There’s also a large maritime-themed playground and interactive drum play area. Shaded and picnic areas are plentiful, so pack a meal and a few outdoor games and enjoy a few hours outside.
Play at a local beach. A winter or spring day at the beach is a gift, with fewer crowds than in summer. The water’s too cold, so celebrate the sand. Choose a spot near a volleyball court and pack a ball or even badminton rackets and birdies to lob over the net. Any number of players works and the rules are TBD. Bring a Frisbee, football and paddleball set to keep the activities rolling. Pack a lunch and make a day of it.
Try a neighborhood park fitness zone. Outdoor Fitness Zones can be found in more than 60 L.A. parks. They offer free access to gym-quality exercise equipment for all fitness levels so families can work out side by side. At the North Hollywood Recreation Center (11430 Chandler Blvd.) you can walk or jog around the track, but don’t miss what’s in the middle! There’s a fitness center with machines for all the core-building moves: push-ups, sit-ups, dips, ellipticals and bikes. There’s no way any family member is going to get bored here. It can be a great way for parents to introduce the kids to bodyweight moves, or a fun way to make a change from the usual routine. Put together a combination of activities to follow as a circuit and have a different family member create a new one every time for an ever-changing challenge. Find more Outdoor Fitness Zones at laparks.org.
Take the stairs. Whether they take them one at a time or two, kids love the challenge of leaping upward and onward. One epic option is to climb 282 stairs to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (6300 Hetzler Rd., Culver City). These stairs are a popular place to step after work and on weekends, but if you go during off hours, it will be less crowded and more than worth the workout. Several hiking trails begin at the top of the stairs, where you will enjoy amazing 360-degree city views. Be sure to tour the visitor’s center to learn about the local flora and fauna as well. The Santa Monica Stairs (699 Adelaide Dr., Santa Monica) promise a crowd, but the two sets of stairs, 170 wooden steps and 199 cement steps, will not disappoint. The wooden stairs climb straight up and are wider across to allow walking side by side. The cement stairs, which wind back and forth, are a bit narrower.
Take it to the mat. There’s more to being active than just cardio! For building strength and flexibility, try yoga. Runyon Canyon Yoga (2001 N. Fuller Ave., L.A.) offers free yoga classes for all ages and skill levels in a beautiful outdoor setting. This might be the entryway for you and your family members to learn something totally new. The slow, mindful tempo could be the best next step after a challenging hike the week before. Donations of $5 to $15 per class are welcome, and you’ll want to bring a yoga mat, water and sunscreen.
Lori Zanteson is an active mom of three who writes frequently for L.A. Parent.