We all spend time trying to encourage people to get off the couch and get outside. Sometimes, though, I forget that some of the best ways to start that process are by using the facilities that are right in our own back yards.
Case in point: Awhile back, a local conservation organization invited people to spend a morning helping pull up clumps of the garlic mustard growing in the woods near where we live. Garlic mustard is an invasive non-native plant, and it's really a problem here in Maryland, just as it is in much of North America.
The weed pulls are a good opportunity to get out with your neighbors for a common purpose, but they also turn out to be a great chance to help convince otherwise sedentary people there are fun reasons to get outside and get active. And that's the first step toward getting them healthier.
The area where we were working happened to have a lot of good walking trails - something a lot of people in the group apparently hadn't been aware of, judging by all the comments I heard around me as we fanned out, yanking up weeds. Most people knew the area existed, but many had never been into it, and some of the kids were obviously fascinated by the streams and ponds where ducks, frogs and other wildlife made their homes. It was equally obvious a lot of people didn't spend a lot of time involved in any activity - there was a lot of huffing and puffing going on, and more than a few comments about what a good workout the weeds were providing.
I remember a similar experience on an Audubon Society bird-watching walk in Baltimore's Patterson Park. People might have been complaining at first about the early start time, as well as all the walking, but they (and their kids) were intrigued by all the landmarks they hadn't known about, everything from the park's Chinese pagoda to its fountains, community gardens and more. At another Patterson Park event, one man got his first-ever look at a bald eagle, and a kid spied a newly hatched turtle the size of a quarter. Just as important, though, I saw them realize the place offered playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, a walking path, sports fields and more - all facilities they could take advantage of, free of charge.
As members of the fitness industry, we'd like to see people get active and stay active. We'd like to see them in our health clubs, boot camps and 5Ks. But physical fitness is always a process, not an event, and we have to have a port of entry to get people involved in the process. Sometimes, that means just getting them outside. Even if they stick with pulling weeds, picking up trash or bird-watching, it's more active than they were before.