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Outdoor Healthy Hearts for the Whole Family

Outdoor Healthy Hearts for the Whole Family

Family health has always been a weighty priority for parents, and for our generation, particularly so over the last few years. Getting and staying healthy is rightly being pursued as a first line of defense against not just Covid, but many other illnesses and injuries.

Physical and mental health at risk

Heart and lung issues have often been brushed off as affecting only the elderly and the unhealthy, but that has changed with the impact of Covid. Even young people, particularly boys and young men, have been adversely affected by the disease and its vaccine, both of which can, rarely, result in heart inflammation.

Mental health has also suffered, as many families faced unprecedented isolation, and continue to deal with unique health and safety concerns. Finding a way to improve and sustain both mental and physical health is paramount to a thriving family going forward!

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Family taking a walk to maintain healthy hearts for the whole family.
My family takes a walk on a sidewalk in our downtown area.

Healthy hearts are important!

That might seem like the most obvious statement of the century. But it is an accurate one! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and the percentages have only grown over the last twenty years.

Heart issues are scary

Whether from mental or emotional stress, or physical taxation, hearts can be impacted and the results can be scary. Last summer, I had some personal experience with this. My heart started pounding and beating in what felt like an erratic way. With seven children at home, it was both frightening to experience as well as challenging to find time to deal with.

I ended up scheduling an appointment with my doctor and having several tests done, and it turned out to be nothing. But it certainly put heart health higher in my mind, and reminded me that even a relatively young healthy person can fall victim to heart issues, especially in the wake of Covid and its long-term impacts.

A woman and her child keep active together on a playground.
Staying active by chasing my preschooler on the playground.

Difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack

It’s fairly common to use the terms “heart attack” and “cardiac arrest” interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. In either case, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Heart attack

A heart attack is a blockage of blood flow to the heart, reducing the oxygenation of the heart muscle. It is often preceded or accompanied by warning signs such as chest pain, shortness of breath, pain to the jaw, neck, back, arms, or shoulders, and light-headedness. Women especially may also suffer from unusual tiredness or nausea.

A person experiencing a heart attack may still be conscious and able to communicate their symptoms. A person who has had a previous heart attack has a higher risk of experiencing either a subsequent heart attack or cardiac arrest.

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest is the sudden and often completely unexpected electrical disruption of a heartbeat. The symptoms are an abrupt loss of consciousness, breathing, and heartbeat. It must be treated immediately by CPR and an AED, like this portable one from Rescue One.

ALWAYS use both CPR and an AED–an electric shock may not be needed, but the AED will detect if it is necessary and advise with audio and visual prompts. The AED is also a backup to assist with CPR, which can exhaust a caregiver within minutes.

A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, or a cardiac arrest may occur separately.

A child holds a portable AED.
The RescueOne Heartsine Samaritan PAD 350P portable AED

A cardiac arrest does not necessarily mean that the heart is not beating at all, but rather could be beating in a way that is not supportive to life, and needs immediate treatment, like the electric shock of an AED, to restore a proper heart rhythm.

Training for a healthy heart

So what does any of this have to do with the outdoors? Plenty! As I was researching the best ways to improve heart health, staying active was consistently at the top of the list. Hiking, biking, walking, skiing…these are all great ways to enjoy the outdoors while strengthening your heart.

A healthy diet is important too, not just for the sake of your heart, but for enjoying that outdoor activity in peak form! Being poorly fueled, or even simply underfueled, will put added physical strain on your family–and honestly, just make the adventure a lot less fun.

Rita’s post about kid-friendly snacks is full of ideas for how to feed your family while out adventuring.

Get that heart pumping!

Your heart is a muscle, and just like any muscle, it can strengthen or weaken depending on the level of regular activity. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise is recommended to keep your heart pumping in prime condition.

Kids are great for setting a pace that will get a parent’s heart rate elevated for some good muscle training! Climb around the playground with your children, or play red-light, green-light on a sidewalk or trail.

Work together as a family

The great thing about outdoor activities is that there are so many options for staying active. Your entire family can get involved in an activity together. If family members have differing interests, consider taking turns on who gets to decide what method will be used for staying active. Perhaps one family member chooses a city walk to admire tall buildings, while another opts for a family bike ride.

Three children lean against a concrete bridge along a city sidewalk.
Checking for turtles during an urban walk.

Make it a habit

One key component of using activity to strengthen your family’s hearts is consistency. The simplest way to do that is to add an exercise component to a habit you already have.

For example, my family attends a church that is seven blocks from our house, and attendance is already a consistent habit for us. A few years ago, we decided to make it a weekly family walk, and we haven’t driven since. Rain or shine, no matter what the rest of our week looked like, we know we are at least getting in that one 1.4 mile round trip walk.

Do you have a similar short trip in your weekly routine that could be converted to walking or biking? Is there a place where you regularly find yourself with 30 minutes of time to kill? It doesn’t have to be a idyllic natural setting. Even a short evening stroll around your neighborhood block while you run your dishwasher gives you heart-boosting exercise and fresh air.

Consistency can be life-saving

Most sudden cardiac arrests during outdoor exercise take place on the first day of an intense activity that the victim isn’t used to, especially at an elevation they have not experienced. Consistent outdoor exercise can lessen the gap between your family’s normal routine and a special adventure.

Why Outdoors?

“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”

If you are an X-ennial like me, you may recognize that quote from Legally Blonde, where Elle refers to the endorphins, or happy hormones, gained from exercise. And whether you find her argument legally compelling or not, the evidence is VERY compelling that exercise, and especially exercise in nature, has huge health benefits!

Two girls cartwheel next to a large fountain and monument.
My daughter and a friend playing downtown for a break from a bike ride.

Mood booster

Nature is a natural mood booster, no pun intended. It has many other benefits as well, including reduced stress, which can have a positive impact on your heart and your health overall. It also can improve concentration and enhance cognition, both key in the development of young children, whose activity levels can be overwhelming if they are bouncing off indoor walls all day.

Mental health has been a growing concern over the recent years. Having your family’s exercise take place outside can been a major boon to mental health. Teens and adults in particular have this need, as their lives tend to be less active and center around indoor activities like schoolwork that increasingly takes place on a computer.

Getting away from a screen for even just a short window of time, and getting our hearts pumping outside can truly be life-changing in so many ways.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another major benefit of time spent outdoors. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that, among other things, strengthens bones, improves mood, and may help reduce the risk of several diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Time in the sun to reap full Vitamin D benefits ranges from 15 minutes for someone with light skin to a couple of hours for those with dark skin.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to get all of your Vitamin D from the sun year round. There are apps that can advise you on the ideal hours for Vitamin D absorption for your part of the world.

10 ideas for daily or weekly habit-forming outdoor exercise

  • Replace a short regular trip with walking or biking
  • Set a timer and see how far you can get in 15 minutes of brisk walking, then walk back. This is a fun challenge for kids, as they can see if they can get further over time!
  • Make a list of hiking trails within a short driving distance of your home, and determine to try a new one each week.
  • Park at least 5 extra blocks away from your work or your children’s school and get a bonus mile of activity each day.
  • Play follow the leader at a playground with your kids, or jump on the trampoline with them. It’s surprising how fast an adult gets their heart rate up playing at a kid speed.
  • Start the dishwasher or the laundry and take a walk while it runs.
  • Go outside during halftime of your favorite sport team’s game, and play the game with your family.
  • Make a short family exercise routine, like 30 pushups, 30 sit-ups, and 30 jumping jacks. Break it into thirds or halves and head to the yard near each mealtime to elevate that heart rate together.
  • Play red-light, green-light at a park or a neighborhood sidewalk. Let kids take turns being the caller to get everyone engaged in the fun!
  • Take your dog for an actual walk, regardless of weather. Dress all participants appropriately of course!

We are heading into chillier weather and getting outside for exercise can feel more intimidating. However, it’s important to keep activity up year-round. Keeping the activity short and simple can be a good way to continue the habit-building process even in the colder and darker winter days.

Two teenage girls play basketball outdoors on a neighborhood street.
Playing basketball with my teenage daughters.

What about an emergency?

Even with good health preparation, emergencies still happen. There is no environment or activity that is completely risk-free, and preparing not just to prevent emergencies, but to respond to them, is a critical component of health training for your family.

Make a plan

Just having a simple plan can make a big difference between an effective emergency response and a poor one. Going over how to call 911 with your children is extremely important. In this age of online communication, many children aren’t especially familiar with how to make a telephone call.

Show them how they can make an emergency call with any cell phone, even a locked one, and practice delivering important emergency information, such as where they are and who needs help.

Carry a first aid kit

Most injuries during outdoor physical exercise can be treated with a simple first aid kit. There are many on the pre-packed ones on the market, or you can make your own. This post can help you figure out the best first aid kit for your family! Go over the contents of your kit with your family to ensure that everyone knows how to use each component that is appropriate for their age.

Train in CPR and AED use

CPR/AED certification classes are a great way to take your emergency preparedness to the next level. RescueOne offers training in both of these, as well as first aid classes. These skills are great to have no matter what type of activities your family participates in.

Consider a personal AED

A portable AED that can be carried along on outdoor adventures may be worth including in your first aid kit or daypack. An AED can double the chances of survival in the event of cardiac arrest. Learn more about uses for a personal AED in our review of the RescueOne Heartsine Samaritan PAD 350P.

Be sure to click through the links on this post to check out the AED units we recommend – Rescue One has provided a generous coupon that you can claim through that link (coupon expires 12/31/2022)!

Help that heart!

There are a lot of ways to develop and protect your heart. Know your risks and prepare for them, including having essential first aid and emergency treatment on hand. And make that heart training a habit through simple and regular outdoor exercise! It’s well worth it, and when you do it using fun means with your entire family, it’s enjoyable too!

A crowd of adults and children play a ball and net game outdoors.
Getting in exercise by playing a game with friends.

Related Links

Outdoor Healthy Hearts for the Whole Family

© 2022, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

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