You’ve got to move it to lose it. As you activate your life, discover Houston’s fitter side via parks, bayous, museums and elsewhere.
“You can stay active while exploring whatever area of town you live in,” Dr. Whitehead says. Here are some locales to become Houston strong.
What: Park it.
Who: Nature buffs who play Frisbee, tennis or croquet and run, walk, hike or bike.
Why: Tanglewood Park is a favorite of Dr. Whitehead. So is dog-friendly Rice University, which provides a canopy of 100-year-old trees shading its 3-mile walking, running and biking trail. (The hardcore can be spotted running the stair steps at Rice’s nearby stadium.) Dr. Chan loves Discovery Green with its free yoga sessions and Hermann Park, where the eight-acre McGovern Centennial Gardens offers gardening classes. (Geek alert: The entrance, Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion, was designed by Apple store architect Peter Bohlin.) The doctors’ other faves include downtown’s Eleanor Tinsley Park, with one of the city’s best views of downtown and access to Buffalo Bayou, including a launch for kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Memorial Park has more than its well-known 3-mile crushed granite running track (with exercise stations) and 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Its golf course may host future Houston Opens, as early as this fall. Perhaps lesser known are a quarter-mile asphalt track near the Tennis Center that enables runners to time sprints. The Tennis Center has 18 hard-surface courts, with nearby beach volleyball courts and a croquet center. Many parks and green spaces have exercise stations, where you can stretch or strengthen muscles. Don’t forget swing sets, where you can strengthen your biceps and shoulders while entertaining your kids, Dr. Chan notes.
Cost: Mostly free, with minimal fees for some sports.
Bring: Kayaks, canoes, bikes or binoculars, where pertinent.
Where: Eleanor Tinsley Park, Hermann Park and Memorial Park.
What: Celebrates what earns Houston the nickname of Bayou City.
Who: Wanderers, runners, paddlers, bikers and birdwatchers.
Why: Buffalo Bayou offers 26 miles to canoe or kayak, though the entire stream runs 106 miles, including Katy to the East End. The city has 21 other bayous. Also worth checking out: Willow Waterhole in the Westbury area, 290 acres of greenway, with walking trails and regular runs and monthly bird watching treks. So many bayous, so little time? Check out Green Parkways 2020 to find the bayou with a fitness trail closest to you. “My wife and I try to do at least one new trail or park a month,” says Dr. Whitehead. “We treat our city like a vacation destination to explore.”
Cost: Nothing, unless you buy a map or a Houston-honed trail guide at REI or a running shop.
Bring: Hiking boots, a map or guide, if you have one. Also a kayak, canoe, bike or binoculars, when applicable.
Where: Willow Waterhole, Bayou City Outdoors and Bayou Preservation Association.
What: Join a fitness group.
Who: Sports enthusiasts who’d rather not go solo.
Why: You can run for fun, or train for 5Ks to marathons. Not only are there running groups, but also dancing, boot camps, tennis, golf, volleyball, stand-up paddle board, basketball, indoor rock climbing and badminton.
Cost: Depends on the sport and group.
Bring: Equipment for your preferred activity.
Where: “The Heights has really good walking trails and dedicated bike paths,” says Dr. Whitehead. You also can do a search on your favorite park’s name, sport and the word “club” to find convenient groups: MeetUp Sports/Fitness Groups.
What: Sign up for a group bike ride or club.
Who: Those stoked by spokes, from easy riders to heavy pedalists.
Why: Those psyched to cycle can explore the nation’s fourth largest city from a new angle. You’re more likely to bike if you know your group meets as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 7 p.m., hours built around most work schedules (so no excuses). Rides span short jaunts to 35 miles. If you need further incentive, you can train for charity rides, including March 17’s 20-60 mile Tour de Houston (itself a BP MS 150 recommended training ride). “When you’re in a group it adds safety,” Dr. Whitehead says.
Bring: Bring it -- not just attitude but the essential accessories: fully charged helmet headlight and flashing tail light, spare tire/tube, water and energy food. Leave earbuds at home.
Where: Many clubs start the wheel deal at local cycle shops, including Planetary Cycles, Bike Barn and Urban Bicycle Gallery. And surprise: Karbach Brewing Company features regular rides and runs, rewarding finishers with beer. “Brew cruise” bike rides are 6 to 8 p.m., the first Monday of the month, while weekly 3-mile runs start at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays, at 2032 Karbach Street at the brewery. Also, check out Bayou City Outdoors and Bike Houston.
What: Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Children's Museum of Houston and Museum of Fine Arts
Who: Anyone who wants to learn – while accumulating steps, igniting imaginations and burning kids’ energy stores.
Why: Pet a goat at the zoo. Behold snakes, butterflies and a 2,000-carat blue topaz crystal, or scamper beneath a stegosaurus skeleton at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. See the latest and greatest kid-friendly exhibits at the Children’s Museum, which sometimes offers kid yoga classes (first Sundays of the month), a 35-foot high climbing tower, stretching and dance activities, a laser maze and a seven obstacle rope challenge course.
Cost: Most museums are free on Thursdays, and the zoo is free on Tuesday afternoons.
Bring: Practical shoes and perhaps a drawing pad and colored pencils.
Where: The Museum District: Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science, and Houston Children's Museum.
* Not all affiliated physicians are Memorial Hermann employees.