5 Ways Summer Camp Builds a Healthy Lifestyle

Alina Bitel
Written by
for Camps USA
5 Ways Summer Camp Builds a Healthy Lifestyle

You hear it in the news, from teachers, and from fellow parents: Children today are facing more and more health problems. Sedentary lifestyles, lack of exercise, and over-consumption of fatty foods and sugary drinks are destroying kids’ health. According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, 17% of kids and teens are obese, but only one-third of high school students go to P.E. class every day. Parenting.com reports that children are exposed to eight hours of media daily, including three hours of TV.

Fortunately, every summer, thousands of camps across the country provide several ways for children to live healthier. Here are the top five:

1. Camp gets kids outside.
Quite a few camps meet in a natural setting. National, state, and local parks as well as conference centers and campgrounds often host summer programs, and with an outdoor setting comes outdoor activities such as running, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and playing sports. Even a trip to the cafeteria can involve a half-mile hike uphill. The wide open spaces of camp invite kids to have fun while getting plenty of exercise.

Nature makes a great physician. Fresh, unpolluted air is healthy for anyone, but it can especially help kids with asthma or allergies. Playing in the dirt, living off the land, and swimming in a natural lake strengthen immune systems. Furthermore, education about survival skills—what to do if you’re injured on the trail, which plants are poisonous, and similar tips—can prevent sickness or even save a life one day.

Sending your kids to the mountains or the woods for the season has another advantage: When they see the beauty of their surroundings and experience the fun of active outdoor living, they’ll likely want to spend more time off the couch year-round.

You don’t need to live in the country to get your kids outside, however. Many urban centers have great resources like large basketball courts, soccer fields, and community pools. As you research summer camps, look for locations with lots of fresh air and room to move around.

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2. Camp encourages active recreation.
Sports camps, wilderness retreats, and fitness programs provide the best ways to get your kids in shape, but even less physically-oriented camps offer some type of daily exercise. If your child is interested in an art program, for example, ask the staff if students have free time for active play. Campers who spend most of the day in a class or workshop can still burn off energy through leisure activities like canoeing, swimming, zip lines, basketball, Frisbee, hiking excursions, or just running and playing with their friends. Even one or two hours of aerobic, fast-paced play at camp is better than a full day of watching TV at home.

Go-kart races, team competitions at camp, pick-up sports, construction projects, and gym time are popular recreations that incorporate exercise. Many camps have classes like woodworking, sculpting, marching band, and drama that combine creative endeavors with physical activity. In addition, sports and games have benefits beyond burning calories. Group sports teach cooperation at camp, individual sports build a healthy sense of competition, and team-building games like trust falls and climbing walls encourage social interaction.

3. Camp promotes good nutrition.
While some camps still serve chicken nuggets and fries, many are switching to balanced, organic, and sustainable menus. A healthy diet consists of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy. Before registration, ask what kinds of meals and snacks are provided, and avoid camp settings that offer mostly fried, pre-packaged, and sugar-laden foods.

Locally grown meat and produce build strong bodies as well as strong communities. Green camps will advertise their recycling efforts, wildlife conservation, or use of renewable energy sources like solar power, and what’s good for the environment is good for human beings. The most environmentally conscious camps may even have a garden or greenhouse where kids can grow their own vegetables and learn about the benefits of nutrition.

If you’re trying to teach your children beneficial eating habits, look for camps that have cooking classes, ecological education, or an emphasis on fitness. Ask the following questions:

  • What kinds of foods are served in the cafeteria?
  • Are there organic, vegetarian, and gluten-free options?
  • Does the campus have vending machines with sugary drinks?
  • Are campers encouraged to drink plenty of water throughout the day?
  • How do the staff model healthy eating?

A health-conscious camp should give children as many opportunities as possible to make wise choices about what they eat and drink.

4. Camp develops the whole person.
Physical fitness and nutrition are only part of good health. Psychological wellbeing can prove just as important in your children’s lives. How you treat your body directly affects your mental state. For example, exercise releases endorphins and boosts your mood, and eating lots of junk food makes you feel tired and sluggish. In the same way, your mindset affects your physical health. Kids with confidence, mental energy, excitement, and positivity will reach their greatest potential in body, mind, and spirit.

The games, activities, living situations, relationships, and atmosphere at camp all contribute to holistic development. Campers learn self-esteem through conquering challenges, cooperation through team sports, kindness as they develop friendships with different kinds of people, conflict resolution as they navigate big and small groups, and independence as they live away from Mom and Dad.

5. Camp instills lifelong healthy habits.
Camp only lasts a week or two, but the values, ideas, and habits it instills last far longer. For instance, many camps have policies against electronic devices. While kids may initially go into technology “withdrawal,” they soon discover that they can have fun without a screen. Campers learn plenty of new, interesting games over the summer that they’ll love to teach their classmates and friends back home.

After several weeks of following a camp routine, which may include waking up early, eating a big breakfast, exercising muscles throughout the day, choosing a variety of healthy foods, and staying hydrated, those patterns and schedules can easily become permanent, automatic habits.

Camp also represents a safe haven where all kids can feel free to be themselves and discover their interests and talents. At camp, your children won’t just get to know new friends; they’ll get to know themselves. In a warm and accepting environment, surrounded by great role models and friendly peers, campers cultivate a positive body image and a sense of self-worth that will last them far beyond one summer.

Now more than ever, kids need an environment where they can explore, be themselves, learn good exercise and eating habits, and discover new tools for leading a healthy lifestyle. Summer camp offers all of these advantages, helping children become strong, active, confident, and happy.

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