Why Geocaching Should Be Your Family’s Next Hobby

By: Emily Schnipper, Zamzee Operations + Customer Support 

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From the @Geocaching official Instagram

At Zamzee, when we’ve talked about ways to get kids more engaged in playing outside, Geocacaching tends to pops into my mind. While caching appeals to people of all ages (or at least those who like to collect things and solve puzzles), parents with kids are always a mainstay of the game. My own mom introduced me to the hobby, which uses GPS to find hidden containers all around the world. As a never-ending game, rather than a sport, Geocaching is as compelling as a video game, and is a great way for families to have fun together, create memories, and appreciate each other’s unique talents.

Although Geocaching can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, it does require a few tools. What you’ll need is a GPS device or a GPS-enabled cell phone, a Geocaching app (if you’re using a phone instead of a GPS), and the instructions on Geocaching.com. The advent of phones with GPS has increased the popularity and reach of the game, and makes it more compelling to kids who are hard to drag away from their phones. While the most popular app for iPhone seems to be the “official” Geocaching app, Android users like the free C-Geo. You also may want a few small toys or other trinkets to place in larger cache containers.

To help you get started, I’ve enlisted some committed caching parents to share advice and experiences. Emilie, a mom of two boys, started caching in 2011 when her sons were 11 and 13. She told me that her whole family enjoyed caching, but in different ways. Emilie says, “We all have different relationships with [caching], which is why it’s part of our family dynamic. I am the most compulsive about it. My older son enjoys the adventure and the search the most. My younger son likes to hide caches. My husband tolerates it but enjoys the camaraderie.” I agree with Emilie that the “something for everyone” aspect is one of the coolest parts of this game.

Caching is the “go-to activity” wherever Doug goes with his son and daughter, aged 13 and 10. “It’s always a struggle to get them outside as they’d prefer to hole up in their room on a screen,” he told me. At the same time, it didn’t take much convincing to get his kids to try caching. They liked the idea of finding caches, as well as the small trinkets that are sometimes hidden inside.

More than one parent advised that even though caching can become addictive, it’s important to leave everyone wanting more. Ken, who caches with his five and eight-year-old sons, says “Don’t overdo the amount of time spent caching, no matter how obsessed you might be with it personally, because family members may become burned out and not want to continue.  It’s also important to keep caching fresh and fun. I try to do this by going on lots of road trips and exploring places that we would not otherwise have visited had we not been lured there by a cache.”

I asked Ken if caching has had any effect on his sons’ physical, mental, or emotional health. He answered,“It definitely has made them into powerful hiking machines. I think hiking as a form of exercise has positive benefits for all three aspects of their health.  In addition, our participation in numerous CITO (Cache In Trash Out) events have instilled in both boys a healthy respect for Mother Nature, earth, and beyond.”

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The innards of a medium-sized cache found on a hiking trail.

While many Geocaches can be found on hiking trails, they are also in cities, suburbs, and small towns. If possible, start by checking out any caches within walking distance of your home, then try expanding your search. Since I started caching two years ago, I’ve racked up tens of thousands of Zamzee Pointz, passed quite a few Challengez, and found lost villages, hidden gardens, and some very interesting facts about blimps. Geocaching often takes me on long walks, where my attempt to find all the caches in an area leaves me barely noticing the distance. If you incorporate walking from one cache to another, you’ll gain all the benefits of physical activity (and the satisfaction of solving a challenge), without ever having to enter a gym that smells like feet.

You’ll notice that like a semi-secret club, Geocaching does have a culture, a language, and an etiquette all its own. As you get into the field, explore the website, and meet other cachers, you’ll catch on quickly. Pretty soon your family will be FTFing, TFTCing, and avoiding Muggles like pros. Are you a seasoned cacher, or are you trying it out for the first time? Let us know in a comment, or by sharing your experience on our Facebook page. I’m wishing you many safe and happy finds!

Walking: In Search of Inspiration (and Free Books)

By: Emily Schnipper, Zamzee Operations + Customer Support 

In November’s newsletter, I wrote about some of the ways I’ve made my “Walks to Nowhere” more interesting.  Like a lot of suburban people, I don’t have much to walk to, but no way am I going to miss out on the benefits of walking.  As I’ve found, walking can increase your appreciation of the world around you and even boost your creativity.  (Not to mention passing many Zamzee Challengez.)

Walking with a camera is my favorite.  I’ve given myself a mission to capture the strange and beautiful things lurking in a town that I always thought was boring.  Through walking and photographing, my perspective has shifted.  I didn’t even realize until I started writing this, but I can’t honestly say that my town is boring anymore.  (Maybe I’ve also learned that boredom isn’t always such a bad thing, but that’s another story.)  My favorite discovery, without a doubt, has been the phenomenon of Little Free Libraries.  All my friends and family know my obsession with these cute, tiny houses filled with free books for kids and adults.  Check out the map on their website here.  There may be a LFL in walking distance from you.

Photo Credit: Emily Schnipper

Photo Credit: Emily Schnipper

I’ve also found that walking is one of the best ways to get ideas or break through a creative block.  If you’re struggling with homework or work-work, go on a walk if you can.  Your renewed focus will be worth the time it takes.  Something about the rhythm of walking makes it especially good for coming up with songs or poems.  Walking is something you can do in your own time, at your own pace.  When life is filled with obligations, that opportunity can be hard to find.  In an article for the The New York Times, Kate Murphy writes about people who’ve decided to walk across the US.  She calls this epic walk a spiritual quest and a way to search for meaning in life.  As people over the centuries have found, walking can speak to some deep part of ourselves that goes beyond the benefits of exercise.

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Even if you’re taking a short home/work break, you can tap into that tradition of walking as a way to find inspiration  A recent study at Stanford showed that while walking didn’t help people find one right answer, it did help them brainstorm more creative ideas.  Other studies have found that walking can reduce stress and anxiety, insomnia and depression.  It can improve memory (vocabulary words, anyone?), self-esteem, and energy levels. Unlike many other physical activities (weight-lifting, surfing, toe-wrestling), you probably already know how to walk safely, and have all the equipment you need.  So the next time you’re struggling with a problem in your life, see if walking might give you a bit of clarity.  I’ll see you on the sidewalks!

7 Ways Coaches Can Encourage Physical Activity Outside Of Sports

By: Brandon Capaletti

Playing a sport is an amazing and guaranteed way to stay physically active, but sports might not be in a child’s life forever. Injuries, time commitments and other factors may make playing a sport difficult. Luckily, coaches of youth sports activities can encourage children to stay physically active outside of sports.

Encouraging children to engage in physical activities outside of sports teaches a very important lesson — that physical activity is a lifestyle choice. The following are some examples of physical activities coaches can encourage their team to engage in that will help them lead an active lifestyle long after they have stopped playing sports.

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#1 Taking Stairs instead of Escalator or Elevator

Walking up a single flight of stairs, according to the University of New Mexico, can help individuals burn approximately 15 calories. Instead of pushing the elevator button and riding to the desired floor, coaches can encourage their team to take the stairs.

#2 Start a Cross-Training Session for the Team

Young athletes are often focused upon only building the skills needed to take part in a particular sports activity. Cross-training can help these young athletes not only work on strength and cardio conditioning, but learn valuable skills that will last a lifetime.

Starting children young on a very basic cross-training program teaches them that there are more ways to be active than playing on a basketball court or soccer field. Children learn that they can build muscle strength and stay fit while cross-training.

#3 Encourage Children to Take a Casual Walk in the Evening

Walking helps strengthen muscles, increase blood flow to the body, and decrease stress and blood pressure. Young athletes should be encouraged to incorporate the casual walk into their daily routine.

Taking a 15- to 20-minute walk every evening can really help children. It will help get them into the habit of doing this physical activity on a regular basis. Hopefully, it will become second nature and they will continue walking long after they have stopped taking part in sports.

#4 Bike to School or the Store

Children are quick to hop in the car to get wherever they need to go. Coaches can encourage their team to stop riding everywhere and bike to nearby locations.

Cycling can be extremely invigorating. It builds upper and lower body strength, increases blood flow and burns calories.

#5 Never Sit for Prolonged Periods – Stand Up and Move

Computers, video games and engaging television shows all encourage children to sit for prolonged periods of time. Instead, coaches should encourage their athletes to get up and move around every so often.

This short activity will encourage younger children to stay active, even when they are being sedentary. Some ways to encourage activity include:

  • Jogging in place during a commercial break
  • Walking around the room every 45 minutes while working on homework
  • Standing up and stretching every 30 minutes while working/playing on the computer/video games

#6 Encourage Children to Try Other Activities in Addition to the Sports Activity

Children often have a one-track mind, especially when they really enjoy a particular sport. Encouraging children to try other physical activities outside of their sport can help them realize there is more to the world.

Coaches can encourage their team to try other activities by incorporating them into their practices or extra-curricular activities. Coaching staff can try to arrange for the team to try out different physical activities, such as jogging, hiking, yoga or Pilates. If children enjoy engaging in this activity, they will continue to participate for many years.

#7 Turn Video Games into a Fun, Physical Activity

There is no way children aren’t going to play video games, so why not encourage them to turn it into a physical activity? There are a number of games that encourage children to get up and move around while playing. Coaches should encourage their team to try these games out — maybe with a team video game night!

Physical activity is a lifestyle choice, not something that instantly happens. Coaches of youth sports can encourage younger athletes to start incorporating physical activity into their daily lives by recommending these activities.

Brandon Capaletti is the Vice President of Cisco Athletic, a Maryland-based athletic apparel manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom uniforms for 18 different sports including basketball, soccer, and baseball.

Back to School: Physical Education Safety Insights

By Shana Brenner

Where has the time gone? Summer is over, and now students and teachers are well into another school year. While for many, the focus this year will be on achieving academic success, the importance of physical education can’t afford to be overlooked. Obesity rates for children and teens have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and in part, one might argue it’s because most schools aren’t giving their kids enough time for P.E.

Teachers and parents alike need to make a joint effort to ensure students are able to get enough exercise on a daily basis, and in large part, this relies on providing a safe, enjoyable environment in P.E. class. Together, teachers, staff and parents can all do their part to help kids safely participate in physical education.060410_fitnessschools_hmed_1p.grid-6x2

Here are some key elements to achieving safety in P.E. class:

  • First-aid kits must be readily available: No one likes to think about it, but an injury or medical emergency can occur at any moment during P.E. class. Teachers need to be prepared to respond and provide necessary care for students in an instant. A fully stocked first-aid kit must be easily accessible in the gym and anywhere else that physical education activities take place. You can easily purchase first-aid kits designed for schools online. First-aid kits should be inventoried regularly and restocked accordingly.
  • Routine gym floor maintenance is essential: Every day, gym floors attract dust, dirt, sweat and all sorts of debris. This can make the floor slick and unsafe for physical activities. If the gym floor isn’t properly cleaned and maintained by the school, students in P.E. class could easily slip and fall, twist an ankle or get injured in any number of other ways. Think we’re overstating the importance of gym maintenance? What about the story of Rene Rodriguez, a man who recently suffered a serious slip-and-fall injury at an L.A. Fitness due to a lack of proper cleaning by the gym’s staff. Gym floor maintenance needs to be an ongoing priority of the school’s maintenance staff. Floors need to be dust-mopped on a daily basis, deep-cleaned weekly and covered when being used for non-sporting activities. Entrance mats also should be placed at every doorway to your gym to prevent more dirt and debris from being tracked inside your facilities. Routine gym floor maintenance can go a long way toward preventing injuries in P.E. class.
  • Safety padding along walls helps prevent injuries: Many activities in physical education involve running around at high speeds. Of course, sometimes, this speed can lead to some intense collisions. In some cases, those collisions can be between a student and the wall. That’s why it’s a good idea for school gymnasiums to have safety padding along the walls. This padding will help protect students when the action spills off the gym floor and into the wall, cushioning the impact and reducing the risk of injury. When choosing indoor wall padding, make sure you study the ASTM recommended specifications so you get a product that truly meets the best safety standards.
  • All equipment being used should be inspected daily: In order to provide students with the safest possible environment, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to perform a pre-activity inspection of all equipment to be used for the class period. Equipment must be verified to be in proper working order, and any hazards should be identified, removed and corrected immediately.
  • Equipment should be stored away properly when not in use: Any equipment that isn’t currently being used in physical education needs to be immediately stored away in a safe and neat manner. Equipment left around the gym can pose a serious injury hazard for students participating in physical activities.
  • Students need proper shoes and clothing for P.E. class: Proper footwear is absolutely essential for participating in P.E. class. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children have comfortable, properly fitting tennis shoes that provide the foot support needed to safely engage in exercise and activities. Students should not be allowed to participate in P.E. activities wearing flip-flops, sandals, dress shoes, Crocs, boots, skate shoes or other non-athletic footwear, as this could lead to injury and also damage the gym floor. Additionally, students need to have comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing for physical activity. Parents can do their part by helping to make certain their kids bring their shoes and clothes for P.E. class every day.
  • Pre-existing student health issues should be disclosed: If a child has any sort of pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, the parents need to let the school know so that the child isn’t asked to participate in any physical activities that may be unsafe given his or her condition. This includes heart conditions, allergies, asthma and respiratory issues, diabetes, etc. Schools should have a process in place for communicating this medical information to teachers at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year as required. P.E. teachers need to always be aware of their students’ health and well-being, and when necessary, activities should be adjusted to accommodate their special needs.

Safety in Physical Education: Everyone Plays a Role

No single party is entirely responsible for the safety of a student in P.E. class. Everyone has a role to play, from the teachers to the maintenance staff to the parents and the students themselves. When everyone does their part, students are able to enjoy all of the benefits that physical education has to offer.

Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of gym floor covers and other athletic equipment with roots tracing back to 1874.

An Ounce of Prevention – Too Heavy a Lift?

A blog by Zamzee’s CEO, Lance Henderson 

I recently heard from a woman named Cyndi who is working hard to keep her family healthy. Cyndi has struggled with her weight, and now two of her daughters do as well. In fact, Cyndi’s girls were both recommended by their pediatrician to attend a wellness camp designed to teach healthy eating habits and help overweight kids become more active. Research shows that a lack of physical activity puts Cyndi’s daughters at risk for a range of serious health problems, and Cyndi felt ashamed. She has committed herself to changing her family’s health habits, but change is hard. And the healthcare system Cyndi and millions of Americans look to for support is largely focused on treating illnesses, not preventing them.  

Fortunately, as part of the camp experience, Cyndi and her daughters were asked to try an innovative program that combines a motivational website with an activity tracker to get kids moving more. According to Cyndi, the effect was transformative. The program was fun for the kids, taking advantage of the power and appeal of technology to encourage healthy behavior, and it was something they could use at home. Cyndi saw a significant positive change in her daughters’ level of physical activity as a result. 

Unfortunately, this success story for Cyndi and her kids highlights an insidious paradox in our healthcare system: the lack of funding for tools to prevent, not just treat, illness. Providing the new prevention tool to kids and families at the wellness camp Cyndi and her girls attended required philanthropic support. Insurance wouldn’t cover it, and the hospital running the camp had limited resources to support new, innovative programs on an ongoing basis. Had Cyndi’s daughters become obese, her pediatrician could have easily prescribed an expensive bariatric surgery (at a cost of $25,000 or more), but there is no routine, sustainable mechanism for low-cost prevention programs to be prescribed and reimbursed by a health plan. I see this as a deeply troubling problem within our healthcare system – a “prevention paradox.”

The economics of prevention vs. treatment are complex. Comparing the cost of treating one individual to the cost of providing a prevention tool to many is overly simplistic. But it’s time to confront the fact that we need to establish pathways that allow prevention tools to be recommended, prescribed and paid for as routinely as pills and surgeries. As a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid enrollment, new populations are entering the health system, often with higher prevalence of chronic disease driven by sedentary behavior and obesity. This is a ticking time bomb for our healthcare system, one that threatens the foundation of healthcare finance and the health of the next generation. Prioritizing prevention at an early age can help address lifelong chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, with positive results for quality of life and healthcare costs. ZZ_2

The good news is that providing access to practical prevention tools is more achievable than ever before. With the proliferation of new sensor technologies, mobile care delivery tools, and the changes catalyzed by the ACA, the calculus between prevention and treatment may finally begin to shift. Critical for this to succeed, however, will be a deeper and broader body of evidence that proves the efficacy of prevention tools.

Demonstrable impact on health outcomes and costs are key. As one example, the hospital running the camp that Cyndi and her girls attended chose to experiment with Zamzee, the tech-based physical activity program, in part because a randomized controlled study, sponsored by HopeLab and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, demonstrated that the motivational online experience and activity tracker got kids moving 59% more than a control group. This is promising research, but healthcare providers and payers need more data to make the bottom-line decisions that drive healthcare spending. Cross-sector partnerships are needed to help build and disseminate trusted evidence so that the leap of faith seemingly required for prevention spending becomes a rational investment in our health—and an effective strategy for reducing the cost of healthcare for current and future generations.

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Ultimately, providing prevention tools to large populations can be sustainable only if they are fully integrated into health systems—and that means operational and financial integration, not reliance on the generosity of philanthropists and small pockets of innovation within the healthcare industry.

Cyndi and her daughters represent millions of kids and families struggling to be healthy against great odds. We face unprecedented challenges to our health and healthcare system, and if we are to meet these challenges, we need evidence-based tools that we can put into the hands of consumers that inspire and maintain active, healthy lifestyles. Building evidence and changing the payment landscape to make these tools widely available is the work that lies ahead. And each of us—healthcare providers and payers, public policy makers, parents and caring citizens—can play a role in creating a system of healthcare that makes sense for the long-term. Let’s start by focusing on prevention and investing in the health of our kids.

Lance_Henderson_HeadLance Henderson

Lance is Chief Executive Officer of Zamzee, a research-proven product and program that motivates kids and families to be more physically active. Prior to joining Zamzee, Lance served as Vice President, Program and Impact at the Skoll Foundation, where he led an international grant-making and investment program supporting social entrepreneurs. He has extensive experience in finance, fundraising, and executive leadership roles with organizations focused on health and behavior change, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation.

Before Picking a Youth Sports Team, Consider These 3 Things

By Brandon Capaletti

With summer now here, many parents’ thoughts are changing from school and spelling tests toward soccer games and T-ball practice. If you are looking to enroll your child in a sport, here are some important considerations to help you choose the right sport, team and coach. youthfootball

Choosing the Right Sport

The first step in choosing a sports team is choosing the sport itself. Some considerations to make include:

  • Your child’s interest, temperament and physical abilities
  • Your schedule
  • The cost of equipment and participation

As you look at these basic factors, strive to find a sport that balances your child’s abilities, goals and needs, as well as the needs of your family. Often, parents will choose a sport based on their child’s interests and physical capabilities, and this is a great way to introduce a child to athletic events. Just make sure to consider other factors, like cost. Some sports, such as football, come with a significant cost because of the gear required. Volleyball, track and field, and swimming or diving are some of the cheapest sports, with football, baseball and hockey topping out the list of expensive sports. Parents pay an average of $671 per year on the fees, equipment and other costs of youth sports.

Another consideration to make is whether your child is best suited for a team sport or an individual sport. Team sports teach children the value of teamwork and encourage them to work with others to reach a particular goal. Individual sports, like gymnastics or swimming, may be better for children who are driven to push themselves or who have a hard time with the winning and losing aspect of sports. With individual sports, however, the social benefit of playing sports is diminished, as is some of the learning to work as a team.

Choosing the Right Team Continue reading

How Play Changes from Toddlers to Teenagers

By David Reeves

toddler_playOne of the most interesting aspects of raising or caring for children is the opportunity to watch the way they change and develop, and much of this is seen in the way they play. Young toddlers spend time learning fine and gross motor skills while playing in tandem, but not necessarily with, their peers. This gradually progresses until pre-teens and teens are more interested in the social aspects of their play, having mastered the motor skills long before. When considering playground equipment, an understanding of these changes is crucial.

The Evolution of Play

How does play evolve? It seems to develop alongside the child’s physical and emotional growth. Children begin truly playing, rather than just exploring playthings, in their toddler years. From around the time they start walking until they hit the preschool, children are spending most of their time perfecting their gross motor skills. Walking, climbing, dancing and jumping are all favorite activities. Throwing and kicking balls are also popular playtime. Children this age may play with other children to the point of dancing at the same time or mimicking movements, but you will observe little in the way of cooperative play.

kid_playThat begins to change around age three. During the preschool years, children begin to “pretend play” in earnest. They enjoy playing with other children and engaging in pretend activities together. While the motor skills are fairly well developed at this point, children can still be a bit unsteady on their feet, so they prefer smaller items to climb on.

Once children hit the elementary school ages, from six to nine years old, they become increasingly social, yet are still fine-tuning those gross and fine motor skills. During these years, risk-taking behavior is common. Children want to jump higher, run faster and climb higher than they have in the past. Their play is largely group-oriented, even if the group is somewhat small.

Once children hit the pre-teen years, from nine to 12 years old, they start to develop some independence in their play, yet still enjoy playing with other children. These are the years when children may begin to outgrow some childhood pastimes, like dressing up or playing pretend fantasy games, in favor of more strategic play activities and games, like organized sports or more difficult board games. Once they hit teenage years, play is almost entirely social, although some kids still enjoy physical challenge. Organized sports are quite popular with teens. Continue reading