- Associated Press - Monday, November 5, 2012

For the Kent family of Amherst, N.H., getting dressed for the holidays often means lacing up hiking boots or buckling a helmet. For the past 11 years, they have made a tradition of spending many Thanksgivings, Christmases and Easters at a national park doing something active.

Many Americans find holiday breaks an ideal time to pursue fitness-oriented activities, from holiday-themed races to just exercising together.

“More communities are offering family-oriented events. It just creates another opportunity to create lasting memories,” said Cheryl Richardson, senior director of programs for the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, in Reston, Va.

The Kents’ children — Tanner, 18, and Peyton, 16 — have explored caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, hiked glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska and rock-climbed in Yosemite National Park in California.

“People associate holidays with a sit-down meal like Easter ham or Thanksgiving turkey,” said their mom, Lisa Kent. “We were replacing it with hiking or an outdoor adventure.”

Myrna Ryti and her family still enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, but they do it after running or walking in the Huffing for Stuffing Thanksgiving Day Run held in Bozeman, Mont.

“It makes for a wonderful way for a family to start the day,” said Mrs. Ryti, who runs the 5 kilometer race with her daughter and son-in-law. Other members of the family, including her 4-year-old grandson, Cooper Bourret, walk the course.

“The first year, he rode in his jogging stroller,” she said. “He loves it.”

His mother, Kalli Ryti, sees it as an opportunity to stress the importance of exercise. “It sets a great example,” she said. “Throughout the year, we go and practice. He likes to put on his number and we run around the block.”

The event, which serves as a fundraiser for the local food bank, has a real community feel to it, Myrna Ryti said. “It attracts lots and lots of folks. It shows where you’re putting your priorities.”

Running a 5K also can make you feel less guilty about eating sweet potato pie, said Christy Rezabek, who runs the Turkey Trot race with her husband, Doug, every year in Huntsville, Ala.

“We get up and run. We know we’re going to be eating bunches of junk food,” she said.

She and her family were preparing for the St. Jude Research Hospital’s annual marathon, in Memphis on Dec. 1. The race, which attracts some runners in Christmas-themed clothing, is normally scheduled for between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Mr. Rezabek said he plans to run the full marathon, his wife the half marathon and their three children the 5K. And they’re motivated by more than fitness: Mrs. Rezabek’s daughter, Lakelee Leach, 8, has been treated for cancer at the hospital.

“St. Jude’s does so much,” Mrs. Rezabek said. “We wanted to give back.”

They have enjoyed training together, she said, part of their efforts to be active as a family.

“We’re not the [parents] that sit on the sidelines and watch,” she said. “When they go ice skating or play baseball, we go ice skating or play baseball.”

Teaching children the value of physical health also is important to Robert Tuchman, a father of two in New York City. His family’s traditions include a trip to a fitness fair at the JCC in Manhattan on New Year’s Day. The event is sponsored by the JCC’s Marti M. Meyerson Center for Health and Wellness.

“Most gyms are closed on New Year’s Day,” said JCC spokeswoman Erica Werber. “We’re open. We want to be there for the community.”

Many families are grateful for opportunities to exercise together at the holidays, said Jerry Bocci, whose family has organized a New Year’s Eve run in Belle Isle Park in Detroit since 1970. Families come out in all kinds of weather to participate in the 5K or children’s run.

“The kids have a good time in the sometimes snow, sometimes sleet,” he said. “When you look out over the crowd, there are a lot of smiles.”

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