Walktober Comes to Maryland

Despite the recent weather, October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate Maryland’s official state exercise — walking! Officially, yesterday was Walk Maryland Day with events planned across the state, but all month offers opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fall.

Walking offers many health benefits, and among them getting out in nature can improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time outdoors can lead to improved attention, lowered stress, better moods, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Maryland offers ample places to get out and spend time in nature, from state parks to local trails, and we’ve collected a list of localities where everyone can work on improving their physical, mental and emotional health, just by taking a walk amongst the trees.

To find the list of walking trails by county, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober and click on “County Walking Opportunities.” Also find more information about Walktober, how you can become a walk leader, or join in next year’s celebration.

Roll Out the Mat and Try Some Yoga

Here at Breathing Room, we are all about helping people find ways to improve their lives and reach their goals, whether they are physical, nutritional, mental, financial, or any other type of goal. One way to work on both the physical and mental or spiritual side of wellness is through the practice of yoga. Yoga, which has been gaining popularity in the U.S. lately, focuses on movement, breathing, and often meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage anxiety
  • Improve balance

For more information about the benefits, check out this article https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know

I got into yoga in high school because I was having a hard time getting to sleep at night and my doctor suggested it as a way to relax before bed. I bought a book that came with a DVD (I know, its been awhile since I was in high school. We had DVDs then) and started practicing some basic yoga movements before bed. For me, slowing down my breathing to match the movements helped me to relax my body and calm my mind. I still find it to be an effective way to get to sleep if I’m having a hard time.

For me, one of the hardest parts of yoga is convincing my dog, Dakota, that I am on the floor to exercise and not to play with her.

After college, I would occasionally go to yoga classes at a local gym with my mom and sister. I really enjoyed exercising with them and felt my balance really improving from the exercises we did in class. But as life got busier, it became more and more difficult to get to the gym for the in-person classes. My sister then introduced me to some online resources where you can find free videos to guide you through many different types of yoga practices. One of these YouTube channels, Yoga With Adriene, has become very popular. The channel currently has 11.4 million subscribers!

For me, yoga has been an on and off journey. Some months, I will do several classes or workouts and some months I might not do any at all. While doing it more consistently is a goal of mine, I really appreciate that I can always find a way to jump back in when I’m ready. There are so many different options out there, so I always feel like I can jump back in without it being too difficult to get started again.

So, if you’re interested in seeing if yoga might be a tool you can use for reaching your wellness goals, give it a shot and check out some of these resources to help you get started!

  • https://www.doyogawithme.com/ – Do Yoga with Me is a website where you can sort yoga videos by length, type, and level of difficulty. It is really helpful for finding something that meets you where you are.
  • https://www.youtube.com/c/yogawithadriene – Yoga with Adriene has a ton of different videos and options, but I like her monthly playlists. There is a different video for each day of the month which range in length and focus. They are a great way to get started with building a habit of practicing yoga.
  • Senior Centers and Recreation Centers – If you check with your county or city, you might have a local center with free or low-cost classes available. They are usually led by a professional who can help you learn the movements. Also, it can be fun to workout with others in your community!
  • Local Gyms – Many gyms offer yoga classes similar to those offered at Senior Centers and Recreation Centers. But you might even have a local gym or studio that focuses exclusively on yoga. This can be great if you are looking for something more advanced or specific to your needs.

As with any exercise, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor before jumping in to a new exercise program (especially if you have any health concerns). But even if you are a total yoga beginner, there are some great benefits to incorporating yoga into your life. So, roll out the mat and see what yoga can do for you!

Walks Through the Neighborhood

Walktober is just around the corner; Governor Hogan’s month-long celebration of Maryland’s official exercise — walking.

When I was a kid, my mom used to take me on walks through our neighborhood, to the library, the ice cream shop, or the public pool, and sometimes just around the block. As a parent, I wanted to recreate that experience for my own kids.

When they were little, it was easy to get them to go for walks with me, but as they’ve grown, the call of electronics is like a siren song to my pubescent boys. So I’ve tried to get a little creative in encouraging them to go for walks with me. Wanting something that involved their phones, I found Pokemon GO, a game app based on the popular television shows and movies.

The point of the game is to walk around and catch the Pokemon characters on your phone as you encounter them, battle opponents at virtual gyms, and collect items necessary for in-game play. The best part is that kids must walk around to play the game; some goals can only be accomplished by walking certain distances.

So while I’m cognizant of how much screen time my kids are getting, sharing these walks where we hunt down Pokemon and battle rivals together is quality time I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Pokemon GO, developed by Niantic, is downloadable on iPhone and Android. The app is free, although it does offer in-app purchases, not necessary for game play. To learn more about Pokemon Go, go to https://pokemongolive.com/en/. To learn more about how to participate in Walktober, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober.

Try Golfing – Or Anything New – This Month

August is National Golf Month and in honor of that, I thought I would share with you all a little bit about my own golf journey. Much to the surprise of many people who know me, I’ve recently gotten into golf. My husband has enjoyed playing for many years, but I had not played before. I starting walking the course with him as fun way to spend some time together and get in some physical activity. After walking along for a few rounds, I wanted to try it myself. So, I started going to the driving range to learn the skills I need to start playing. It’s been really enjoyable and a fun way to keep myself active, especially on a Saturday morning.

Like many other types of physical activity, there are mental and physical health benefits to playing golf. We’ll get to those in a little bit, but first, I want to talk about the growth that can come from trying new things. I think for many of us, life gets busy and we might not feel we have time to learn a completely new skill. I know for myself, there are times when I want to try something new but am worried that I won’t be good at it. But, this is where we can benefit from a change in perspective. Focusing on learning, growing, and small improvements over time can encourage us to think more about how many new things we are learning and how much we are improving. I’m by no means an expert golfer, but I can hit the ball further and straighter than when I first started, and I’m proud of that improvement!

Josh Sorenson (Carrie’s husband) on the course. Photo by Carrie Sorenson.

According to this NPR article, the process of learning a new skill and improving over time can be very important for brain health. When you challenge your brain to learn something difficult, you help strengthen the connections your brain needs. So even if it isn’t golf, challenging yourself to try a new (and difficult) activity could be great for your brain in the long run! My husband recently decided to learn to play ice hockey, and although it has been difficult to learn, he has a great time playing on a local recreational team and improving his skills. For me, learning golf has been challenging, but also a great way to relieve stress and get outside. Whatever your interest may be, stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a new skill is a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age.

Even if golf isn’t a new skill for you, there are still benefits to hitting the golf course. Walking the course, carrying bags, and hitting the ball are all forms of physical activity. If you walk an 18-hole course, that is usually five or more miles of walking (depending on the size of the course). Even folks who use a cart when they play end up walking a good amount over the course of a game. Additionally, the time spent playing is that much more time we are spending outside. In a previous post I explained many of the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, so check that out if you want more information about why time outside can be so beneficial. But in general, adding any physical activity and time spent outside is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. So, there are some great potential health benefits of getting into golf.

So, for National Golf Month, consider heading to your local golf course or driving range to try (or continue) playing golf!

Just Keep Swimming (Safely)

In the heat of summer, there is nothing more refreshing than heading to a pool, beach, or some other cool place for a swim. As a kid, I loved going to my grandmother’s house to play in the pool with my cousins. We would hold diving contests, play games of “Sharks and Minnows,” and enjoy the occasional popsicle as well. My husband and I recently moved into our new house, which has a pool, and it has brought back many of these fun memories. But, it also got me thinking about making sure that people enjoy my pool safely. So, today I thought I would offer some tips around making sure we can all be safe and have fun at the pool!

Having fun in the sun means being prepared for everything the sun brings with it! The warmth from the sun can turn dangerous without the right protection. There are a variety of options you can consider, although the most popular and common one is probably sunscreen. The most important thing when using sunscreen is to make sure you are following instructions for the sunscreen you are using. It will tell you how to apply it and how often you’ll need to reapply to make sure it is protecting you and your family.

But you should also consider sun protection options like protective clothing, umbrellas, or going inside. If you have children who make the putting on sunscreen a difficult process, protective clothing might be a great option. My husband recently bought two shirts that protect against the sun and he found it much easier than trying to remember to reapply after swimming. Although it isn’t always an option, if you are able, going inside during the hottest part of the day can also be very helpful. Anything to avoid a sunburn, right?

Children sitting by the pool. Images by rawpixel.com.

Another important aspect of staying safe at the pool is following any posted rules or clearly explaining your family’s own pool rules. For example, many pools have a no running rule, which can be difficult for kids to understand. Talking about this rule ahead of time might help. You could even do a science experiment to show kids different surfaces and how they change when they are wet. Having kids participate and understand what it means for something to be slippery and dangerous might help them understand why that rule applies at the pool. Discussing rules like this ahead of time can be a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, you might have a rule that your kids can only be in certain parts of the pool. You can talk to young kids ahead of time and explain how the depth can change in some pools and that it isn’t safe for them to be in deeper areas. Explaining why the rule exists might make the kids more likely to follow it.

As a parent, there are many other things you can do to ensure pool safety. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website dedicated to sharing this information. You can go to https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/ to check it out. It shares information about making sure kids have appropriate supervision, teaching kids to swim, and installing protective barriers and other equipment. Be sure to check out the information and resources on the website to see if there is anything that will be helpful for you and your family.

Enjoy some safe and fun pool time this summer!

Celebrate Senior Health and Fitness Day Today!

If you read Breathing Room regularly, you know that I often write posts about physical activity. I’ve written about my dad and I exercising together, the mental health benefits of exercise, and tips for exercising outside. Since May 25th is Senior Health and Fitness day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about physical activity for seniors in particular. Regardless of age, exercise is important for good health, but for seniors, there are some specific things that can make it even more important (although occasionally more challenging too, but we’ll get to that).

So, why is it so important that we continue to be physically active as we age? Many of them are the same benefits we have mentioned before, but they become so much more important as we get older. To read about many of the benefits, check out this article from the National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60

But, let’s also mention a few important benefits now. First, exercise helps keep bones strong. Since bone density decreases more as we age, keeping bones strong can help prevent serious injuries from trips or falls. Second, exercise can help prevent illnesses that are common for older people like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. And if people already have these conditions, exercising can help manage symptoms. Finally, exercise might help improve immunity, which helps keep seniors healthy.

It is also important to keep in mind that seniors might have more health factors they need to consider when beginning to exercise. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before getting started. Your doctor, or some other healthcare professional familiar with your health situation, can help you determine if you need to avoid (or focus on) and particular type of exercise. For example, many seniors experience joint pain from arthritis or some other condition that can require them to avoid certain movements.

Changes in balance and muscle density can also make seniors feel unsure about exercise. Having a place to sit nearby, good shoes, or some other support can help improve confidence. So, make sure you have what you need to feel comfortable being active! Remember, any increase in physical activity can help improve health so whether it is swimming, walking, biking, gardening, or some other movement, every little bit helps.

If you are a senior who is looking to get moving, check out some resources for seniors in your area. Your local center for aging, senior center, or even AARP might have information about exercise programs that are specifically designed for seniors. You can also check out this link for some online resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise

 If you are someone who knows a senior, reach out to them and see if there is a way you can help them be more active. Having support from a friend or family member can help make it easier to get moving. Physical activity is important and although there can be more to consider when becoming active as a senior, the benefits make it worth the effort!

Everyone Can Celebrate Play Outside Day

I recently learned that the first Saturday of every month is National Play Outside Day! As someone whose family loves to get together and play games in the back yard, I think it is great that there is a day specifically set aside to remind everyone to enjoy playing outside. As the weather gets warmer, there are more and more options for places we can go and activities we can do outside. So, set a reminder for yourself on the first Saturday of every month (like this upcoming Saturday May 7th) and head outside for some fun!

Playing outside was a big part of my childhood and something that I still enjoy. When I was younger, my siblings and I would scour my mother’s gardens for ingredients we could use to create our pretend delicacies. I will always appreciate my mother’s tolerance of our pulling up her plants for our make-believe games! As we got older, we would play games like kick the can, capture the flag, and more. Some in my family might even tell you that the games would get so competitive that some might have cheated in order to win, but those allegations were never proven.  Kick-The-Can was actually a game designed to be played as it started to get dark because we would regularly play well into the evening. Even now, my family and I love to get together for some outdoor games like cornhole. On one occasion, we even made a homemade outdoor putt-putt course in the backyard!

If you are interested in getting outside to play but aren’t sure what to do, here are some ideas to get you started! Keep in mind that, especially for kids, part of the fun is in being creative and coming up with your own games and rules. So, try these ideas to get started, and then see if you can come up with your own even more creative ideas!

One thing you can do is create your own scavenger hunt or competition. You could send everyone out in search of the coolest rock or biggest leaf.  If you have sports equipment, you could also see who can come up with the best trick shot (with any ball and container you have available). You can use that same sports equipment to create a totally new game! Get out everything you have and then see if you can come up with new ways to use those things for a different game. It can be even more fun if you create your own weird rules. Don’t get hung up on the details, just get outside and find something fun you can play!

One last thing before we get outside and play, please consider safety as well. Playing outside is fun, but we want to ensure that we stay safe too!

  • Pay attention to the weather. If the weather is too hot, you’ll want to consider playing at a cooler time of day. Also, summer storms can come on suddenly. Know what to do if it starts to look stormy.
  • If it is sunny, make sure you are protecting yourself! Wear sunscreen or sun protective clothing to make sure you don’t get burned. Also, make sure you have water so that you can stay hydrated.

I hope you get to get your creativity flowing and enjoy some time outside in honor of National Play Outside Day!