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Planning an Active Summer
With summer just around the corner, now’s the time to start planning how to take advantage of the longer days and warmer temperatures. In particular, it’s time to start thinking about how you will stay active this summer and how you might take your physical activity program to new heights by exercising outdoors, scheduling active weekend outings, and perhaps even planning an activity-oriented summer vacation such as a bike tour or walking tour.
Outdoor activities can be a lot of fun, and they’re also good for your health. Working regular physical activity into your lifestyle can help reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as help you manage your blood sugar. Important data from a study published in the journal Diabetes Care showed that stationary biking three days a week for 45 minutes improved insulin sensitivity by 46%.
Regular physical activity can also help prevent diabetes, so if your friends or family members need a little extra encouragement to join you in your physical activities, let them know what a great thing they’re doing for their health. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a major three-year clinical trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health, showed that in 3,234 people with impaired glucose tolerance (often called prediabetes), those who walked or exercised five times a week for 30 minutes (150 minutes total per week) lost 5% to 7% of their body weight (approximately 12–15 pounds) and reduced their risk of diabetes by 58%. For people over the age of 60, the reduction in diabetes risk was a whopping 71%.
If you’ve made physical activity a priority this year and have improved your conditioning, what better way to put all that fitness to good use than to take an active holiday or enjoy an active weekend? For those of you who haven’t quite reached the get-up-and-go stage, the prospect of an active summer weekend or vacation might be just the motivation you need to lace up your sneakers and start exercising.
Before you call your travel agent, take a few moments to think about the type of activity you’d like to do and what you’re capable of doing. Would you enjoy a guided nature walk or group bird-watching outing on gentle paths? Or would you prefer a rugged hike in the woods or mountains? Are you fit enough for a bike tour through the vineyards of northern California? Or would a historic walking tour through the villages of Vermont suit you better? There are dozens of activities to choose from in your own hometown, across the United States, and throughout the world.
Urban parks. City parks are wonderful places to walk and enjoy nature close to home. Urban park rangers in most city parks lead theme tours throughout the year, and many are free of charge. Call your local recreation department or park headquarters for details.
Walking and biking clubs. Clubs offer the chance to meet new people and to try new walking or biking routes. All major cities and some smaller ones have them. Most clubs sponsor events (walking clubs sometimes team up with local running events), and many offer instruction for free or for a small charge. Contact your local running, biking, or sporting goods store, or attend a local walking, running, or biking event to find out about clubs in your area. Clubs and stores are also great resources to find out about biking vacations and walking tours.
Volkssport. Volkssport clubs in every state organize noncompetitive walk, bicycle, swim, and cross-country ski events for people of all ages. They are not contests of speed or endurance, but rather family-oriented activities that promote participation in recreational activities for fun, fitness, and friendship. Participants can walk, jog, run, or use a wheelchair. Each event is given a trail rating, and routes are set out so that you finish at the starting point. The most common distances are 5, 10, and 20 kilometers (3.1, 6.2, and 12.4 miles).
Bird-watching. In 1991, more than 24 million Americans took field trips for the express purpose of watching wild birds. In general, bird-watching is not too vigorous, although the equipment — binoculars, cameras, tripods, zoom lenses, etc. — can get heavy after hours of walking. The amount of walking depends on the group and its goals, but almost all trips involve a fair amount of standing in one place to watch (or look for) birds.
The American Birding Association is the largest bird-watching organization in North America. Although they don’t run field trips themselves, they endorse tours run by operators who have a proven record of competence and quality. There are many tours to choose from, both nationally and internationally.
The National Audubon Society, an organization with 550,000 members, 508 chapters in the Americas, and 100 Audubon Sanctuaries and nature centers nationwide, organizes field trips through local chapters — many of which are open to nonmembers for a nominal charge — and guided bird-watching vacations through local chapters and the national organization. Call or visit their Web site to find a chapter near you.
Mall walking. Not ready for walking outdoors? Many of America’s shopping malls have organized walking clubs, and many open their doors early for walkers. It’s a great way to get out of the weather and away from traffic, and restrooms and water are never far away. Membership is usually free. You can find out more by stopping by the mall office or contacting them by phone.
Hiking clubs generally offer outings for people of all fitness levels, and they rate their hikes by level of difficulty. If you’re not sure what hikes are best for you, someone at the club should be able to assist you. Most clubs charge nominal yearly fees, and almost all offer supervised hikes. Some clubs also offer weekend trips.
The American Hiking Society, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting hiking and to establishing, protecting, and maintaining foot trails in America, publishes The National Directory of Trail Organizations (now also available on their Web site for free), in which they list more than 1,500 trail organizations and agencies, from the large national organizations such as the Sierra Club to neighborhood hiking clubs. If you don’t already know of a local hiking club, this is a place to start looking.
Whether or not you seek out a hiking club, the U.S. National Park System, operated by the National Park Service, is a treasure of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor recreation. The park system comprises 384 areas covering more than 83 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.
Forestland in the United States is also a gold mine of opportunities for outdoor activities. More than 191 million acres of forests and grasslands are administered by the U.S. Forest Service throughout the United States.
If you prefer flat surfaces to inclines, you may be interested in walking or biking on one of the many abandoned railroad corridors that have been converted into public trails. Much of this work has been done by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a grassroots organization. Since the 1960’s, almost 11,000 miles of rail-trails have been created across the country, and as of September 2000, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has identified more than 1,000 rail-trail routes. With at least one rail-trail in every state, there’s probably one near where you live.
Active vacations are big business these days, and several reputable active travel agencies make it easy to find the vacation that’s just right for you (see “Getting Out and About” for more details). You can check out these companies on the Internet, or call to speak with their travel counselors directly.
When searching for a biking or walking vacation, look for the following:
Be realistic when matching your ability with the demands of the trip. Although it may sound charming to bike from one covered bridge in New England to another, if the distance is 25 miles and you’re only capable of 15, you’re not going to be a happy camper. Look for descriptions like the following to guide your decision (this description is for a level-one walking trip offered by the company Backroads): “For those who feel comfortable walking 3–7 miles per day. Enjoying a leisurely pace is often a priority for those who choose this route level. Approximately 2–4 hours of walking per day.” In making your final decision, always speak with a representative from the company for final confirmation of your choice.
Adult camp. How’d you like to bone up on your tennis game, or take those swimming lessons you’ve always dreamed about? Now’s your chance. The number of adults going to camp has risen in the last decade, and the Web site for Grownupcamps.com has a list of over 5,000 sports and activity camps for adults with everything from tennis, golf, and biking to hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, and wilderness survival. If you don’t have Internet access, check your Sunday paper for camp or vacation listings.
Community centers. YMCAs and Jewish Community Centers are excellent resources for active day trips, two- to three-day getaways, and longer summer trips. Check your local center for what’s available.
Team Diabetes. Team Diabetes is a program where you team up with friends, family, and coworkers to walk or run a marathon in honor of someone who has diabetes. (Some events also offer shorter courses such as 5 or 10 kilometers or half-marathons.) It is a chance to experience the world’s most beautiful and well-known marathon courses while raising money to support diabetes research. Once you join Team Diabetes, you become part of a unique partnership with coaches from around the country who will help advise you about training for the event, whether you plan to walk or run.
Tour de Cure. Tour de Cure is a noncompetitive bicycle ride to raise money for diabetes research. The events offer a variety of routes and distances (10–100 miles) for everyone from the occasional rider to the more experienced cyclist. Events take place in almost every state, with volunteers, snacks, drinks, and support vehicles all along the way to ensure a safe and enjoyable day for riders of all abilities. You can find out more about Tour de Cure at the American Diabetes Association Web site.
American Heart Walk. Sponsored by the American Heart Association, the American Heart Walk is a noncompetitive walking event that’s geared to businesses. Companies participate by forming teams of employees and their family members and friends to raise money to fight heart disease and stroke. Most walks are less than five miles. You can contact the AHA to find out where your local chapter is located and about an American Heart Walk event near you.
Training for an active vacation
Here are some training tips:
Dehydration. It is critical that you stay well-hydrated, especially in warm weather, and particularly when you have diabetes and if you are over age 60 (but true for people under age 60, too). Proper hydration should begin before you exercise, continue once you’ve begun, and continue after exercise. Fluid replacement should approximate sweat and urine losses, and weight loss from activity should not exceed 2% of body weight. You can weigh yourself nude before and after exercise to get a sense of how much fluid you need. Some people can lose up to 2 liters of fluid per hour (1 liter of water weighs 2.3 pounds). Here are guidelines for proper hydration:
You should become familiar with the symptoms of heat illness. They are thirst, irritability, and general discomfort, followed by headache, weakness, dizziness, cramps, chills, vomiting, nausea, head or neck heat sensations, and decreased performance. Recognizing and treating dehydration early decreases the occurrence and severity of heat illness. Notice that some of these symptoms could be confused with hypoglycemia. Every effort should be made to stay hydrated, just as you would make every effort to avoid hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia. The greatest risk of exercise for people with diabetes is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Here are some simple measures you can take to assure your safety. If you have questions, consult your doctor or diabetes educator.
A few more tips
An active summer weekend or vacation is a wonderful opportunity to put all your fitness to good use, explore new activities, meet new people, and enhance your health. There’s never been a better time to do it, and ample opportunities exist for everyone of every age and fitness level. Have a healthy, active summer!
Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.