The Grand Canal in Dublin. Photos: Waterways Ireland

The Great Outdoors .... activities to benefit all the family

Athletics Ireland-commissioned piece promoting the benefits of physical exercise and proximity to water along the Waterways Ireland system

The world as we knew it changed at the beginning of 2020 and we have all had to make many changes to our lives. But while restrictions have forced us to stay as close to home as possible, it has also been a fantastic opportunity to spend time with our families and get to know our local areas.

Like last year, staycations are very much on the agenda for 2021. But this is not a hardship as there are so many beautiful places to explore in our own counties and beyond – and a whole host of potential activities available for all the family to enjoy, from hiking and biking to boating and jogging along the Waterways Ireland network.

Sarah O’Brien, HSE National Lead for the Healthy Eating and Active Living programme, says the pandemic had shone a light on mental health and the benefits of getting out and exercising in the fresh air.

“Many families may feel cooped up at home and find it stressful living with the COVID restrictions but getting outside is a tonic for mind and body.,” she says. “As long as you make it social and fun, children and young people are likely to support the activity. Of course, leaving the house can be an obstacle but it may be useful to remind children that they will feel better afterwards and give them some physical activity options.

“And there is a growing selection of walkways and cycling paths around the country - you can find out more by contacting your local sports partnership or local authority. This sort of activity works well for families to complete as a group – it also complies with COVID restrictions and is a great way to spend time together.”

Waterways Ireland recently launched the enchanting 130km Royal Canal Greenway which is the ideal location for walkers, runners and cyclists of all ages to enjoy some exercise in a relaxing setting. The proximity to water in combination with some physical activity can provide a much needed break from the screen-fuelled, fast-paced rhythm of our modern lives which is so important for both mind and body.

The Royal Canal Way

Emmet Rushe of Rushe Fitness in agrees and says exercising outdoors is beneficial to both mental and physical health.

“Getting outdoors gives us a chance to connect with each other away from the distractions that technology can bring,” he says. “We are also getting much needed fresh air, family time, exercise and also Vitamin D which is so important due to both the time of year and because we are spending so much time in our houses.

“Walking is an easy activity to start with as any family can get out and head for a walk together. Or if you enjoy sports, then maybe try and do something sporty with each other, so look around at what you have access to and have some fun finding what suits best for all the family. I believe exercise is a great way to bring everyone together and keep body and mind fit and healthy. So if you are struggling right now, get everyone out and start being active as a family together.”

Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk, Leitrim.

Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says exercising together reinforces the message that physical activity is an important part of our lives.

“It is modelling a lifestyle choice that has so many benefits,” he says. “Not only are you and your child getting exercise together, but you also spending time together, catching up on your day and having fun. Any form of exercise together is an opportunity to teach and guide your child about how to take some control over your health. It is also an opportunity to pass on your ideas and your values about our shared environment whether that’s the types of trees, the name of a canal or river or sounds such as birdsong, lapping water or the waves.

“But you don’t have to be knowledgeable about nature to pass on a love of it, just getting out and enjoying what is accessible to you is a gift. Even a quiet walk brings you and your child together in a shared activity without the intrusion of screens. It can really give a pleasant change from the news, home schooling and remote working.”

It is important to include your child in preparing for a family outing as some may be reluctant to be torn away from their TV or computer screen. But he warns against offering too many options, as it can be confusing.

“When choosing a family activity try to offer children a limited choice and make sure that everyone gets a chance to pick where you go or what you do,” he advises. “Doing things together and exercising as family doesn’t need to be something elaborate or break the bank – and you don’t have to live near a beach or have amazing weather all the time.

“You will just need to prepare, to present your idea as fun and to make spending time together a normal, relaxed and regular part of family life. The benefits of spending time together, learning skills and or getting to know our planet far outweigh any inconvenience or the few complaints that you might have to bear beforehand.”

More from this Topic