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Healthy Parks, Healthy People Field Guide

HPHP Field Guide 2022

Plan out your next exploration of the scenic Cape Cod National Seashore with our handy guide, which includes detailed maps of several self-guided walking trails.

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Published on July 31, 2017

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What if an hour-long game of tag each day not only made your children healthier, but also raised their test scores? New research suggests it can.

A study of school children who participated in an afterschool exercise program in Urbana, Illinois showed noticeable changes after nine months of increased physical activity.

For the study, one group of children played tag and other vigorous games for 70 minutes a day. The control group continued their normal activities. Neither group changed their diet and both groups were tested for fitness, body composition and cognitive skills before the program began. At the end of nine months the children who exercised showed great improvement in their scores on computerized tests that measure how well a child pays attention and processes information.

The children who were obese in the exercise group also had less visceral fat at the end of nine months, while the ones who didn’t exercise had more. Visceral fat is known to increase inflammation in the body and has been linked to higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular complications.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. A new study published in Preventive Medicine shows that most children are falling short. Among kids ages 6 to 11, 25 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls did not meet this recommendation. Teenagers fared even worse. Fifty percent of boys and 75 percent of girls were not active for at least an hour a day.

“An hour a day is a minimum recommendation,” said Hyannis cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, who is also the medical director of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, a partnership between Cape Cod National Seashore and Cape Cod Healthcare. “Kids should be getting as much exercise as they possibly can. They should be outside playing sports, doing activities or even just going to the beach.”

It is not surprising that the children who exercised did better on tests, she said. When you increase your cardiac output you, increase blood circulation throughout the body, including the brain. Exercising your body actually exercises your brain, she said.

Dr. Thompson’s best advice for parents is to get children off their devices and get them outside.

“You’re spending $800 to $1,000 for a device. Spend $100 instead and get them a good pair of sneakers and get them walking,” she said.

For parents who need ideas for how to get their children more active, Dr. Thompson offers the following suggestions:

Sign up as a family for Healthy Parks, Healthy People.

Heathy Parks, Healthy People offers a walking program to encourage people to adopt a more active and healthier lifestyle. The program provides maps and guide to trails in the National Seashore and a passport booklet where you can record your progress.

“Exercise is important at every age and Healthy Parks, Healthy People is for people of all ages, whether they live here year-round or are just visiting for a day,” she said. “We want everyone to participate and learn to develop a healthy lifestyle in this unbelievable natural resource.”

Head to the beach.

You can take a sunrise or sunset walk as a family or hike on the flats of Cape Cod Bay at low tide until you reach the water. A game of Frisbee or volleyball is fun and provides aerobic exercise. Searching for hermit crabs or building a sand castle are great exercise activities for little ones.

“There is nothing hard about getting to a beach on Cape Cod,” Dr. Thompson said. “If you are at the beach you are going to automatically burn more calories.”

Get your kids involved at a community center.

The Hyannis Youth & Community Center has a sports complex that includes ice skating rinks, an indoor walking track and a gymnasium. They also offer summer sports leagues for athletes from all towns on the Cape in hockey, basketball and volleyball.

The YMCA Cape Cod in West Barnstable offers summer camps, family swim times in their pools, fitness classes, karate, golf and swimming lessons.

Recreation departments in most towns on the Cape have summer and year-long activities for children and adults.

Bike ride as a family activity.

The Cape has many different bike trails that are perfect for families:

  • The Cape Cod Rail Trail is 22 miles long and runs from Dennis to Wellfleet with plenty of places to stop along the way to swim, picnic or explore.
  • The Shining Sea Bikeway is a little over 10 miles long and runs from Falmouth to Woods Hole.
  • The Cape Cod Canal Bikeway is about eight miles long and runs alongside the canal.
  • Nickerson State Park also has eight miles of interconnected bike or walking trails. The
  • Cape Cod Provincelands Trail is five miles long, but you can add two miles if you follow the extensions to Herring Cove, Race Point and Bennet Pond.

Encourage old-fashioned games you used to play after dinner when you were a child.

There is something deliciously fun about playing outside at dusk.

  • Teach your children how to play kick-the-can or ghost in the graveyard.
  • Encourage games like tag or kick-ball that get kids moving.
  • Give them a canning jar and challenge them to catch fireflies.

“Just get your kids outside. Any activity where they are not inside staring at a screen is healthy,” Dr. Thompson said.