How much does your family walk? Alarming statistics of childhood obesity and inactivity flood the media, and research points out that Americans are falling behind in physical fitness. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure our teens and almost-teens understand the importance of good health whether they’re into athletics or not. Walking is a simple way to stay healthy, and it’s not just for kids.

Make it happen

Middle and high schoolers are often interested in trying new physical activities, and neighborhood parks, clubs, and schools have many free or low-cost activities. But doing a sport a few hours a week may not give your kids the foundation they need for lifelong health — what if they get bored by their favorite sport? What if their favorite sport only happens during a certain season? What if every hour on the basketball court is offset by multiple hours commuting to school and doing activities in a car?

The core fitness that needs to be established is cardio-fitness, simply defined as continuous movement for an extended period of time. Though walking doesn’t provide the intensity necessary for optimum fitness — like jogging, biking, rollerblading, and swimming — it’s an easy way to get the heart pumping when your tweens or teens aren’t in PE class.

Family walks are fun and healthy, and encourage conversation. It’s too easy to get lost in the daily grind, and walking with your teenagers can offer a welcome respite, time to talk and catch up on what’s most important in your lives. You might be surprised by what your teens will share.

Teen walking tips

Let’s face it — walking is the least glamorous core activity, and you’ll probably need help promoting such a humble form of cardio. Here are a few tips.

  • Take a hike. Propose a worthy destination — that’s important. Maybe it’s a mountain, a lake, or a state park, but if your teens enjoy these activities, they may start proposing destinations of their own.
  • A night walk or hike could also add some appeal to the proceedings. Pack hot apple cider or tea, grab some flashlights, and head into the hills. Or pick an interesting (but safe) urban neighborhood to explore and end up at a café.
  • Urbanites might consider brainstorming a few destinations that can be reached or traversed on foot: museums, parks, street art exhibits, or farmers markets. Walk and see what you notice along the way.
  • Feeling traceur-ish? Maybe you’ve got a candidate for free walking, parkour-style. Warm up with the monkey walk, but maybe leave équilibre de chat (cat balancing) to the pros; in the meantime, check out some videos on YouTube for inspiration on just how athletic a little urban outing can get.