The reports in major newspapers, medical journals, and outdoor magazines ring clear—doctors say that outdoor recreation is the best form of medicine to keep you healthy, relieve stress, and promote mental health. According to a report in the New York Times, doctors might even start prescribing a regimen of outdoor recreation to cure what ails you, especially when treating children.
But let’s face it, getting the kids away from those video games can seem like an impossible task. Realizing that many Alabamians struggle with obesity, the state launched the 100 Alabama Miles Challenge in 2018 to encourage people to get outdoors and be active. The challenge provides all family members, including kids, a specific goal that will help then jumpstart a healthy lifestyle and become more familiar with Alabama’s parks and other wild areas.
The 100 Alabama Miles Challenge was the brainchild of Brian Rushing who works for the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development. He created the program to encourage Alabamians to get out and walk, run, hike, swim, bike ride, paddle, or skate 100 miles each year while exploring the state’s many paddle ways, state parks, and preserves as well as state and national forests.
The Challenge quickly gained a strong group of founding sponsors, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, AARP, and the Alabama Trails Commission, all of which are dedicated to making Alabamians healthier.
Getting Kids (and You) Involved in the Challenge
As the name implies, the challenge is to do 100 miles of activities over the course of a year. On the surface, that sounds like a lofty goal, but it’s actually quite doable and enjoyable. Challenge organizers say that all you have to do is to hike, paddle, bike ride, swim, skate, or even ride horses for two miles a week for a year, and you’ve made the challenge. But, once you and your kids get started, you’ll likely burn past that goal quickly and add additional miles as you feel much healthier and more invigorated. In the process, your family will find your own favorite destinations across the state that you’ll want to revisit time and time again.
It doesn’t take much to get started in the 100 Alabama Miles Challenge. A simple neighborhood walk is a good start for most adults, but for kids, it’s a different story. They need something a little more to get them motivated.
While it’s difficult to pry kids away from electronic screens, it’s easier if you start by taking them to a place where there’s plenty to do and see and engage them throughout the visit. When you arrive, tell younger children about the wildlife they’ll see (especially insects), and discuss the park’s history with older kids. Then, take them on an easy walk to an interesting feature, such as a beautiful waterfall or a swimming hole, and try to identify different varieties of birds and wildflowers along the way. Another option is to make a short canoe trip where you can pull off to a sandy beach to have a picnic and swim.
Three Tips for Success
As you and the kids pursue your 100 miles, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of reaching your goals. First, you should limit the amount of time that kids use cell phones while they’re outdoors. Don’t take the phones away—that won’t go over well at all—but limit the kids’ screen time. When they are using their phones during an outing, encourage them to share their experience with their friends on social media.
To make the challenge more interesting, you can also partner with friends and other family members. While you and the kids might want to start on your own, you can eventually do outings with others, which adds a level of excitement and makes each get-together more of a special event. When you feel comfortable with your routine, you can kick it up a notch and challenge other members of your larger group to do better each week. And, you know, kids love a challenge.
A third strategy is to do a variety of activities, which will make your 100-mile challenge more interesting. One week it may be a hike through a nature preserve, the next a paddle down a blackwater river, or maybe a little roller skating along the Chief Ladiga Trail. Over time, you’ll learn more about the types of activities that you and the kids prefer, and it’ll be easier to plan future outings.
Utilizing Alabama State Parks
If you’re not sure where to go to begin knocking out miles, your best bet is to visit an Alabama State Park which will provide you easy access to a wide variety of activities. At DeSoto State Park, you could take a short hike to some beautiful waterfalls, or try your hand at mountain biking on the 2.5-mile long Family Bike Loop. At Cathedral Caverns, you and the kids could do the 1.5-mile round-trip walk to explore the magnificent stalagmites, or you could all venture to Gulf State Park to try stand-up paddleboarding. The state parks not only provide plenty of things to do, but they also have campgrounds so you can devote a weekend or a few days to your 100-mile challenge.
You’ll find plenty of places to explore on 100 Alabama Miles Challenge and Alabama Trails Commission websites. The Challenge website also includes a directory of participating groups across the state that host fun events where you can join in with a community of friends with the same goal. It’s just one more resource to help you and your family not only reach the 100-mile marker but also make fitness a priority so you’ll lead healthier, happier lives.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.