By: Alyssa Miele

The holidays are a time for fun, food, and family. But in the midst of all the chaos, it’s easy to neglect our health — both physical and mental. We all have a ton going on, but without taking the necessary steps to stay healthy, we won’t be at our best to complete the tasks the holiday season demands of us. Let’s take the time to make health a priority this winter with these ideas.

Two girls participate in MLK Day activities.

1. Plan a holiday themed outdoor excursion.

It may be chilly outside, but you can still bundle up, get outdoors, and get your body moving! Love ice skating? Downtown Pittsburgh is home to the Mass Mutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place. It’s an affordable place to have some active holiday fun the whole family can enjoy!

chocolate covered fruit
Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

2. Pick healthier desserts

It’s great to treat yo’self during the holidays, but you can do so in a healthier way by switching out some of the holiday cookies for dark-chocolate-covered fruit at your next holiday gathering! It still does wonders to satisfy the sweet tooth while also providing you with nutrients such as antioxidants. If you still want cookies, you can find healthy recipes on sites like Pinterest!

TV
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

3. Watch a silly holiday film.

Laughing is SO important for your mental health. Throw on some holiday PJs; brew a cup of coffee, tea, or hot cocoa; pop a few bags of popcorn; and invite your family for a movie night. Relax while sipping your warm beverage and watching your favorite holiday or romantic comedy with the people you love most. Belly laugh until the stress of the holiday season melts away like the marshmallows in your hot cocoa!

Women In Nature

4. Take a stroll after the big meal.

It can be really tempting to plop on the couch after a big holiday meal, but try to fight the urge to do that and go for a family walk around the neighborhood instead! You’ll get to spend time with family while also taking steps to be a healthier individual (no pun intended)! Walking after a meal increases blood flow which aids in digestion and doing any sort of exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you happier!

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Photo by Lê Tân on Unsplash

5. Take time for yourself.

They say the holidays are all about surrounding yourself with family, but sometimes we need some alone time. You can do this in any way that feels right for you, but my personal favorites are reading a feel-good book’ getting up early to walk a few loops around the lake by my house; or taking an extra-long, hot shower. Take some time for yourself this holiday season to recharge and give yourself the energy needed to put your best foot forward when interacting with your relatives.

The main goal of the holiday season is to spread joy. To do that, we need to be happy and healthy ourselves, and these are just a few ways to achieve that. What steps are you taking to keep yourself healthy this holiday?

Group photo on a college hike.

How to Get Outdoors When You Are a Busy College Student

By: Alyssa Miele

College is hard. Period.

You’re juggling classes, homework, extracurriculars, internships, jobs and more all while trying to maintain your health and maybe get a few hours of sleep each night. In the midst of all the craziness college brings, it’s hard to find time to get outdoors. Here are just a few easy ways to do just that!

1. Eat your Lunch Outside

Order from a takeout place on campus– or bring your own– and sit outside on the grass or at an outdoor table. Doing so gives your body a break from the stale, recycled indoor air and harsh fluorescent lights of classrooms while also providing you with some much-needed Vitamin D.

2. Skip the Bus

This is my favorite tip. If you have time between classes, walk to class instead of taking the bus or driving! In addition to being outside, you’re up and moving which increases the blood flow to your whole body and helps your cognitive abilities. Walking to class may help you perform better in that class!

Consider biking to class too. Have you tried Pittsburgh’s bike share system, Healthy Ride?

3. Do Homework Outside

If your assignment doesn’t require an internet connection to complete, consider completing it outside! Reading multiple chapters of an Intro to Ethics book may seem like a bummer, but doing so surrounded by the trees on campus may make it a little more rewarding. The fresh air is also great for refreshing your mind!

4. Join an Outdoors Club

Spend your weekends outside! Most colleges have outdoors-centered clubs that students can join that range from hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and more. Some of those clubs even offer discounted or free events! Get outdoors while also meeting new friends with your same interests by signing up.

5. Do your Workout Outside

Skip the gym and opt for an outdoor workout! Take a jog, or if you’re like me and hate running, do some bodyweight strength training or yoga in your backyard or at a nearby park. Some parks around Pittsburgh even offer small outdoor exercise stations that use your body weight as resistance. Check out this article for more information on the exercise stations.

6. Get an Outdoor Internship

Here’s our shameless plug, as a Venture Outdoors intern you’ll have plenty of opportunity to get outdoors while you’re learning. We always have positions available outdoor photographers, communications interns, and youth educators. If you love to get outside and want to share that with others, apply this semester.

It might seem downright impossible to make time for the outdoors with such a busy college schedule, but these unconventional methods are sure to get you out of the classroom and into the fresh air!

Student Discount

Students get $5 off at Kayak Pittsburgh locations. Try kayaking, stand up paddleboards, or canoes.

Hiking in the Rain

7 Fun Outdoor Activities To Do In The Rain

By: Beth Zabiegalski, Youth Education & Training Coordinator

We are all aware… it’s raining. But, if you’re like me, you still want to find a way to get outside! I’ve been thinking about the activities I’d like to do in the rain and compiled a list of seven fun things you can try at home.

1. Go on a rain hike.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you can’t go on a hike! Put on your rain boots and your rain jacket and pick a flat, easy trail you won’t be slipping up and down (unless that sounds like fun to you!). In the rain you’ll get to experience sounds and smells of nature that aren’t around on a normal sunny day.

2. Play, with your feet.

Most of us have jumped in some puddles in our lifetime. If not, take this opportunity to do it! If you’re feeling earthy, take off your shoes and walk in the grass to let the mud squish between your toes. That’s such a cool feeling that you don’t get to experience every day!

3. Make art.

Mud is a fantastic media for temporary artwork. Make a mudpie or make it a pet mudpie with sticks and rocks stuck all around your mud clump. You can also paint mud on your face and run around in the rain until it washes off. If that’s too much contact with mud for you, dip a stick in mud and draw on the sidewalk or driveway with mud, then wait for the rain to wash it away.

4. Find a new use for your pots and pans.

Experiment with the sounds rain makes when it hits different objects. Search around your house for things like pots and pans, plastic bowls, wooden objects, and arrange them outside in an open area. When the rain begins to fall, listen to the household orchestra you’ve just created on your own front lawn.

5. Put on your own musical.

Does talking about this make everyone want to “sing in the rain?” If you have the privacy, or if you’re not shy at all, put on some clothes you don’t mind getting all wet and let out your musical side! Twirling and singing in the rain can be so freeing and pleasant, even just for a few minutes.

6. Practice mindfulness.

For this one you’ll need to find a place where you can sit quietly and listen to the rain. It works best when you’re away from major roads and things that can distract you. Have a seat and close your eyes. Focus on what you’re sensing. What do you smell? What does the rain feel like on your face? What different noises does the rain make when it falls on trees, the ground, a roof, your jacket? Take a moment to slow down, take in nature, and appreciate this weather.

7. Help out some wormies.

After the rain has passed, you’ll see many earthworms all around on the pavement. Get some friends together to go on a worm rescue walk, quickly handling the worms and returning them to the soil.

For all of these activities, remember to have extra clothes and a towel ready for you as soon as you get into your house or back to your car so that you can get warm and dry quickly. And always go inside immediately if you hear thunder. These activities are fun in the rain, not in storms. Have fun, and enjoy your time in this rainy summer weather!

Hiking With Kids

10 steps to getting your children outdoors.

 

By Mara Addison

At Venture Outdoors, we know a thing or two about getting kids outside. We develop and implement dozens of successful youth and family outings every year, as well as focusing a large part of our resources partnering with schools and other organizations to get kids outside.

Through my role as a volunteer trip leader, I am lucky enough to work with the incredible Venture Outdoors staff to create and lead youth outings. Each outing is crafted carefully, to not only get kids safely outside, but to keep them entertained and involved as well.

During these outings, many parents and guardians asked how to get kids outside on their own. They wanted tips on how to prepare for a hike, and what kind of precautions were necessary. We decided it was time for a quick tutorial: Taking Your Kid Hiking 101. I rounded up my daughter and her bestie, and prepared this high-level course for you parents and guardians. Mollie and Zoe were kind enough to visually share their adventure with you.

There are no bad ways to get your kids outside – unless it’s completely unprepared. Take this as a quick 10 step introduction to the world of Forcing Children Away from Electronics and grow it from there!

1. Invite a Friend – or Two

Family is good and all, but nothing beats having an outdoor adventure with a buddy. Invite along a bestie or two to join on your hike. Make sure Adult in Charge of Bestie knows how to dress for an outing – long pants, layers of clothing, secure closed shoes that won’t mind seeing a bit of mud. And then talk it up! You’re not going for a boring walk but a HIKE with SURPRISES and FUN and ADVENTURE and maybe SNACKS! Make it a real EVENT.

2. Plan for Your Audience

Remember how boring car rides as a kid used to be? Let’s face it, trudging through the woods, and looking at nothing but a wall of trees for an hour or more can be just as boring, even for many adults. It’s a good idea to think ahead and plan your hike with an interesting twist.

The Tranquil Trail in Frick Park, has a great scattering of Fairy Houses. We completed a successful hike there recently, with our goal of finding as many fairy doors as possible.

You could also go on a flower hike (such as on the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel) or outings were the goal is to count how many dogs you see (bonus points for giving each an imaginary name). You can even make it a goal to see how many different types of trees you find, touching the bark to feel the differences, and noting the variations of leaves.

The main goal is to keep it interesting!

3. Find Your Facilities

“Mom? I gotta go.”

For some reason, trees seem to bring out the need to pee in children. Find the closest facility and perhaps suggest they be used before you hit the trail.

“Mom? I gotta go again.”

Bring along some toilet paper or wet wipes, along with a plastic bag to pack out the used ones. We look at outdoor peeing as something fun and zany rather than creepy and scary. While it’s not something you want to do all the time, if you’re not near a restroom and the urge can’t wait – better to be prepared.

4. Spray – and Spray Again

Don’t forget sunscreen! It’s important to protect your skin, no matter the time of year. And, if you are anywhere near grasses or trees, we recommend bug spray, specifically one that protects you from ticks.

Put your kids in the T position and apply liberally! Be sure to bring extra spray with you to apply more if necessary.

5. Become One with Nature

Museums discourage kids from touching. Nature, on the other hand, is very kid friendly. They can smell flowers, touch trees, climb rocks, interact with animals (safely!), watch water flow, and even dunk their feet in a lake. I love trees, flowers, greenery, water, and most of all, I love sharing that passion with my daughter. The more exciting I can make nature for her, the more comfortable she will be in it.

6. Snack Time!

Always pack water for you and the kids. It’s vital that you stay hydrated while you are outside, no matter the weather – but especially when you sweat. You may also want to pack some food for energy.

Your best bet when it comes to snacking, is to make something simple and easy to eat. Be sure to clean up any trash and dispose of it in a trash can or take it home to dispose of.

7. Time for Fun

With the hiking part out of the way, it’s time for another type of activity: the playground! I plan hikes around playground areas, because no matter how young or old the kid, everyone loves to swing and slide.

We have some great playgrounds in the area as well, from the Highland Park Super Playground, to Frick Park’s Blue Slide, and an assortment of big and small playgrounds throughout North Park and Schenley Park.

We’ve hiked all of these areas and always end up at the playground. It’s a great way to wind down from the planned activity while keeping the kids moving.

8. Food Glorious Food

The best part of the hike for my little adventure girls? Pizza. They know at the end of the day, there will be their favorite food from their favorite delivery place. It’s not required to reward your child with food. And of course, it could always be a healthier choice.

But-

The point is to have something at the end of the trip that keeps your child motivated.

On many Venture Outdoors youth outings, we end the trip with a snack – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and cocoa, candy canes, ice cream, etc… Sometimes, rather than food, we end it with a craft, such as pumpkin painting, tissue paper flowers, or a terrarium creation.

Kids seem the happiest when there is something to look forward to at the end of an adventure.

9. Tick Check

When you get home, be sure to check everyone for ticks. They are in full force right now, in the woods, in long grasses, and perhaps even in your backyard. No matter what you do outside, it’s good practice to check for ticks upon returning home.

Not sure what you are looking for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a great website to help. Check it out at www.cdc.gov/features/stopticks/index.html.

10. Positive Reinforcement

You’ve had a great time hiking and you’d like to do it again some time. Let your kid know this. Tell them your favorite part of the adventure and ask them to share theirs. Let them know how proud you are of their accomplishments.

Sharing positive reinforcement is not like giving a Participation Trophy. If you have watched your child carefully, you will see the things they did that are praiseworthy. Maybe they did a kind act, climbed a tree, found an interesting mushroom or flower, or maybe climbed some rocks.

It’s simple reinforcement: If you make the experience positive, the child will associate it with something positive.

Want to get your kids in on the adventures?

Become a member at Venture Outdoors and learn about all of our kid friendly events!

By: Alyssa Miele

For years I tried to make a huge list of New Year’s Resolutions. I’d sit down a few days before the apple dropped, conjure up a list of 10 to 20 items, as excited as every prior year. Waking up on January 1, I’d feel ready to take on the new year, keep my resolutions, and accomplish waaaay more than the year before. But then something would come up—a birthday party, where I wanted to eat the cake my resolution restricted. Or I couldn’t find the perfect book to read, so I’d think, “How am I going to meet my ‘read 20 books’ resolution if I can’t find ONE book to read?!’”

Then I found it. The. Perfect. Resolution. Get outside more. Simple, yet beneficial. Nothing over-the-top, but still something a lot of people struggle with. I’ve made it my top resolution for the past two years, and it’ll stay at the top of the list for 2019—I can always improve. Here’s why it should be your top resolution, too.

The best thing about making getting outside your #1 resolution is that you can mix in all your other resolutions. Want to work out more? Take a hike or bike ride! Want to eat healthier? Visit your local outdoor farmer’s market for local fresh fruits, veggies, and more. Want to spend more time with your family? Take a walk around the neighborhood with them. The point is, while working toward the resolution to venture outdoors more, you can multitask by adding another resolution to the mix. Talk about productivity! Try it with any of your resolutions—they can all be done in the fresh, outdoor air!

January 2017. One of my 2017 resolutions was to explore Arizona while I lived there. I was living about an hour from The Grand Canyon, so what better way to get outside AND see Arizona than to visit the big hole in the ground? (disclaimer: it’s NOT just a hole. It’s beautiful. Like, happy-cry beautiful.)

Another thing that makes getting outdoors the most important of your resolutions is there’s no downside to it. Some other resolutions require you to give something up in place of the resolution. Think of the top two resolutions made every year: 1. eat healthier, and 2. get more exercise. By eating healthier, you may be giving up cookies and pizza, which you love. Getting more exercise, although wonderful, ultimately cuts into your Netflix time. But what are you losing by venturing outdoors more? The only thing I can think that you’d be giving up is the smell of the stale, recycled air coming through the vents in your house. Most would not consider that a loss.

Getting outside doesn’t necessarily mean doing something physical. My friend Samantha and I were antsy from spending so much time in the library during finals week, we decided to get out and take some pictures up at Arizona Snowbowl.

The final reason I’ll address is venturing outdoors doesn’t cost muchThings like hiking or spending time at a park cost a whole $0. If anything, all you’ll be paying for is a new pair of hiking boots or kayak rentals—a small price to pay for a ton of outdoor fun, and even those things cost less than your average gym membership. 

Sedona, Arizona (May 2018) Total cost for this outdoor adventure: $20 for parking, split between my three friends and me. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

See, it’s simple. Just spend more time outside. You can mix it in with your other resolutions, there’s nothing to lose, and there’s little to no cost. Join me and make venturing outdoors more your top resolution for 2019.