MARY GANZEL: Summertime offers healthy and fun excursions

HEALTH & FITNESS: There are a lot of places to go to get in some healthy activity this summer

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

Despite the heat and gnats in south Georgia, there are many opportunities to have fun over the summer months. Whether you are a young single person, have a family with smaller children, are married with no children or are enjoying retirement, you can find opportunities to have fun both inside and outside this summer.

Several historical and interesting places to visit are close by and can be enjoyed by everyone. Ray Charles Plaza, Riverfront Park, the Flint RiverQuarium, The Bridge House, Radium Springs, Chehaw Wild Animal Park, the new Lee County Library and the YMCA Sports Park are just a few.

The famous and soul and blues singer Ray Charles was born in Albany in 1930. At Riverfront Park there is a statue honoring Ray Charles playing the piano. Since Ray was blind, the text on the monument is also written in braille. The monument also has speakers so you can hear his music.

Riverfront Park has walking/jogging paths along the Flint River and a very nice children’s play area. It’s a good place to take in the sights of the scenic Flint River.

The RiverQuarium exhibits fish and wildlife of the Flint River area, and offers salt water aquariums teeming with aquatic life from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a great place to visit with children.

The Bridge House is a historic home and houses a tourist information center. You can pick up information about things to do in Albany and enjoy learning about the history of this building, built by Nelson Tift to collect tolls from boats traveling on the Flint River.

Just south of Albany, you can find Radium Springs. Radium Springs has about 70,000 gallons of water per minute coming out of the earth and has a consistent water temperature of 68 degrees. Radium Springs is the largest natural springs in Georgia and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Georgia. The name comes from the fact that the waters in the springs contain traces of radium.

Chehaw Wild Animal Park, just north of Albany, has a number of wildlife attractions. Take a walk down the boardwalks and see cypress swamps and a variety of exotic animals including elephants, black rhinos, bald eagles, cheetah and zebras.

The YMCA Sports Park is located at 4508 Gillionville Road. This landscaped 50-acre complex features an Olympic-sized (50 meter) outdoor pool, renovated pool house, premier soccer center, air-conditioned multi-purpose facility, baseball and t-ball fields, playground and shaded picnic area, summer day camp, outdoor sand volleyball court, seasonal walking track, and fellowship pavilion. Summer pool passes are available for individuals or families. If you are planning a family reunion, church outing, company picnic or other large celebration, this is a great location with both outdoor and indoor facilities.

If you prefer inviting friends and family to your house or enjoy visiting them at their homes, there are many creative ways to have fun in your backyard. Have a scavenger hunt, show an outdoor movie with a projector and a bed sheet, have a backyard camp out or picnic, or play old school games with the entire family.

Some of these activities take a little more planning but are great fun. For a scavenger hunt, type up a list of clues that lead kids and adults to different locations in your home or in your neighborhood. This creates excitement, requires participants to use their mind, gets them moving, and allows people to socialize. To make a picnic more interesting, select a theme - like foods from a certain culture. Ask family and friends to bring a dish so that the workload is shared.

Many families have at least one family member who has the knowledge and equipment to make a movie in a short amount of time. Assign that person to take video clips of people having fun and participating in activities throughout the day and put it together for everyone to view. This is a great way to have everyone involved and make memories that are captured on film.

It can be tough having something for all the generations in your family to enjoy. However, you can bridge the generation gap and bring families together by playing a variety of “old school” active games like Red Rover, Red Light/Green Light, Four Square, Hop Scotch, and Mother May I. If it’s hot, then bring the family indoors and play Scrabble, Chinese checkers, Sorry or Monopoly. It may take some creativity getting kids to put away their electronic devices, but make the day an “electronic free” day. This could be the theme for the day.

There are so many ways to enjoy the summer so find something that appeals to you and plan it out. Whether you have an outing at Chehaw Animal Park, take a dip in the outdoor pool at the YMCA Sports Park, or choose to stay home and have a picnic, always include friends and family. Making fun memories with family and friends will make this summer the best ever.

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.