Playgrounds, parks and walking trails are among the perfect places to boost health and tighten the bonds with relatives and friends, according to one fan of the outdoors.

Children, teenagers and adults alike can partake in outdoor exercise, which helps improve both physical and mental health, said Darla Vaughn, a co-leader for a Fort Smith chapter of the Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) group, which is a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting weight loss.

"We tell everyone all of the time to stay in motion," she said of her chapter, which is one of two chapters in Fort Smith and meets at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at Wesley United Methodist Church, 2200 Phoenix Ave. "We tell people to keep active, because it seems that when you stop being active, then it's really hard to get back into the routine. We encourage people to be outside and to be active every day."

Representatives from Take Off Pounds Sensibly are offering tips on how families can exercise on the playground, in parks or wherever they choose, with the tips including using a park bench to do push-up repetitions and playground bars for pull-ups or similar motions. Individuals and families also can use a swing set for balance during calf raises; people can stand on their tiptoes, pause briefly and then slowly lower their heels back to the ground, the tips state.

"Being with family outdoors is a great time," Vaughn said. "I have eight grandchildren I watch on a regular basis, and we love to go on walks. We take big, long walks and have treasure hunts and all kinds of fun things."

Vaughn said having those with you "search" for items is a way to keep the brain active while the body is walking and/or running.

"We look for white flowers, yellow flowers, a bird feather, soft things, crunchy things and things like that," she said. "I usually make up a big list of 20 items before we go, and the kids watch for sticks and certain kinds of bees.

"It gives people more appreciation for the outdoors when they are outside," Vaughn added. "Nature is wonderful — being outside and breathing fresh air. It's good."

Kathy Mae Phillips, an area coordinator for Take Off Pounds Sensibly's northwest Arkansas area, agreed.

"It's definitely important to be healthier; we teach that in our TOPS chapters — to keep moving," she said. "Walking is the best exercise to me, and you can be out doing things like playing with a ball, playing soccer or whatever.

"Getting active with the family is important, and with our TOPS organization," Phillips said, "you can join at 7 years old, and we have teenagers, as well. It's encouraging to have the support of others."

Accountability also plays into the success of exercise and weight-loss efforts, she said. Having family and friends exercise with you helps keep each other motivated, focused and less likely to lean on excuses, Phillips said.

"People's excuses include work schedules, having to take children places and the inability to find time," she said. "We hear a lot of those excuses, but you have to make health a priority. We all have the same amount of hours in the day."

Most people who procrastinate when it comes to exercising and enjoying the outdoors cite an alleged lack of time, while the second most common excuse for not exercising is a lack of energy, said Kelly K. James, Downers Grove, Ill.-based certified personal trainer and writer who works for Take Off Pounds Sensibly.  

"Before dinner, if my kids are wound up, I will get my daughter to ride her bike around the block, and I'll get my son to go out and play basketball," she said. "The idea that exercise and being outdoors has to be this big chunk of time isn't accurate. A blast of 10 to 15 minutes of exercise and being outside is as good as an hour.

"And you should push kids on a swing; just don't sit there," James added. "You are modeling behavior for your kids, so if you tell your kids to go out and play but you are sitting on the couch watching TV or looking at your Smartphone, then that behavior will have a huge influence on your kids."

Family members who favor scrolling through social media instead of being active with each other "miss out" on multiple opportunities to connect with each other, she said.

"When your kids are little, they want to spend time with you because you are their favorite person," James said. "When they start to pull away to their friends, your kids can still go for that bike ride or throw that Frisbee with you, so you will hopefully still have something to do together."