Take a moment to picture a great stroller ride. Imagine your feet moving at that feel-good pace and deep breaths that cleanse your lungs. You look down and see your child happy and relaxing. The birds are singing and a slight breeze causes the leaves to dance. A pleasant sun warms your back—you feel alive and well and peaceful. You and your child are in “the stroller trance.”
So how do you make all of your stroller rides like this?
Make great stroller rides a healthy staple in your family’s life by establishing a fool-proof routine. I’ve run at least one of my three kids nearly every day for 6 years (and counting). As an exercise science researcher and parent, I’m convinced that daily stroller rides are the best way to keep kids in a gentle rhythm for health. I’m also convinced this is the easiest and most enjoyable way for a parent to achieve or maintain elite fitness (and sanity!). Regardless of whether you walk, run or do intervals, follow these 3 tips to get into a routine that everyone will enjoy.
Tip 1. Establish Daily/Regular Relaxing Stroller Rides
“Relaxing” stroller rides can certainly be used daily. There are two classic options.
A. Morning rest. After eating breakfast and playing hard for an hour or two, most little ones are more than ready for a break. A stroller ride with a healthy snack is optimal. A little fresh air, nature, rest, and healthy food can go a long way. And you can achieve your workout early in the day!
B. Afternoon wake-up. If your kids are like mine, they wake up from an afternoon nap a bit crabby and hungry. This is my favorite time for a stroller ride. On days that I am home and able, we take a ride soon after wake-up. Within 2 minutes they are eating and happy and saying those funny things kids say. I like to keep this “wake-up” ride brief, about 15-20 minutes. That’s just enough time for them to have a snack and get in a good mood. When we return home they are ready to play happily for a couple more hours.
Tip 2. Establish Weekly Adventure Stroller Rides
“Adventure” stroller rides are high energy trips designed to stimulate the child and foster growth. Adventure rides will be your “big event” for the day. Limit yourself to 1-3 adventures per week to avoid fatigue and to keep these trips “special”. It’s nice to have your adventure rides on consistent days. For example, each week, you may go on adventures Tuesday/Thursday morning. Most children love the consistency—it gives them something to look forward to. There are three classic adventure rides.
A. Fun destination. Run or walk to a fun destination, stay for 1-2 hours, then run or walk home. Ideally the destination is fun for both the kids and the caregiver! Examples include:
- Beach or pool
- Park or playground
- Hiking trail/Nature area
- Any outdoor place that’s fun for you and your kids
Try planning unique activities each week, even if you’re visiting the same locations—most kids love some variation. For example, week 1 may be a fun hike. Week 2 you may bring a camera and let the children snap some nature photos. Week 3 you may bring binoculars for bird watching.
Prepare a good snack/meal for the stroller ride home. They will need it after playing hard for an hour or two. And if you run (both ways) you also need to take care of yourself! Upon arrival eat a quick snack—something to quickly “reload” your muscles. Fasting may leave you feeling lethargic for the rest of your adventure (especially on the run home). Simple snack options include a banana, apple, granola bar, or half of a peanut butter sandwich. If you plan on running home, try to keep your muscles loose; stay active with your kids on your “adventure”. Avoid sitting down—your muscles will “tighten” and it will be difficult to get going again.
B. Social Adventure. We all need our social time! Recent research has revealed social connections to be a powerful determinant of health, just like eating well and exercising. So why not meet up with others for a weekly stroller ride? Social stroller rides tend to work best when they end with a play date at a park or play area. There are many ways to incorporate a social adventure into your weekly schedule, but here are two ideas that we enjoy:
- Go on a stroller parade! Meet a group of friends at the park with strollers. Walk or run in one direction to a ‘viewing destination’ that is exciting for the kids (e.g., a pond with wildlife). Then turn around and walk or run back to the park for the kids to further socialize and play actively. A “bootcamp” can also be added for the parents (do some strength training while kids play).
- Invite bikers! Runners can include non-runners on the social adventures by inviting them to bike. This can be a great way to include older siblings and grandparents. Also invite bikers if you wish to improve your running—you can have the biker “pull” you at a challenging pace. It helps to bring out the competitor in all of us!
C. Productive stroller rides. “Productive” stroller rides are very satisfying and helpful for the parent. For example, each week I run my kids to our local farmers’ market to buy our fresh fruits and veggies. This activity also enhances my kids’ community connectedness and social capital – they help shop, interact with farmers, socialize with friends, and play for an hour.
Tip 3: Eliminate the debate!
One key to having consistently peaceful stroller rides is eliminating potential debates with your children.
A. Food. Don’t fall into the trap of taking food orders for the stroller ride. This is a recipe for disaster! Generally, it’s best to keep the food simple and consistent. For example, you may opt to bring a fruit snack (either fresh or dried) and water. Subtle changes to the menu (e.g., apple slices one day, dried mangos the next) are enough to keep most kids happy.
B. The Route. Similarly, resist the urge to allow your children to “steer the ship”. If given the helm, the children may “point and shout” at every intersection – this is not a fun game. You can easily eliminate these debates by following set routes. For example, when I run my kids to preschool in the morning we take the “beach rode” and when I am able to pick them up and run them home, we take “the forest road”. On weekend mornings we run “the loop” clockwise. On weekend evenings we run “the loop” counterclockwise. Set routes are actually really fun for kids. They get to wave at the same people and dogs week after week, see houses built from scratch, see trees bloom and then grow fruit, etc. And finally, set routes are also great because they allow you to closely time and monitor your training.
Regardless of your end goal, establishing healthy stroller rides is a “no-brainer”! The only question is who is the stroller ride better for, your child or you?