Linda Wasmer Andrews
Flying a kite may be the ultimate carefree pastime. That makes it the perfect metaphor - and a fine activity - for health promotion.
Some people approach getting healthier as an exercise in self-discipline, a triumph of the will over the sometimes recalcitrant body. Personally, I prefer to see it as an exercise in self-nurturing, a triumph of optimism over the wear and tear of daily life. Of course, adopting a healthier lifestyle takes some real effort and commitment, and it can't always feel easy or fun. But when the enterprise as a whole isn't imbued with playfulness and joy, I suspect that it may be missing the point. What good are a sound mind and strong body without a spirit of enjoyment?
Kite flying is the very definition of sheer fun. For those who need more justification than that, here are five good reasons to do it.
Mindfulness is a method of paying attention that fosters more acute awareness of the here and now. That awareness, in turn, has a number of proven health benefits, including improved pain management and decreased anxiety and depression. Research has also shown that it's associated with anatomic changes in areas of the brain involved in memory, learning, and emotion. Watching a kite drift across the sky, it's easy to become enthralled by the present moment, temporarily letting go of yesterday's headaches and tomorrow's deadlines.
Kite flying is an outdoor activity framed by the great expanse of sky and attuned to the nuances of wind. A large body of research now attests to the mind/body benefits of spending time in nature. While much study has focused on green space, researchers have also begun to look at the restorative power of blue space in the form of water. From there, it's only a small intuitive leap to the idea that soaking up blue space above the horizon might be beneficial as well. When a kite isn't handy, watching clouds sail across the sky may have a similar effect.
Experienced kite flyers say it's a myth that you need to run to launch a kite. The idea is to let the wind do that work for you. But kite flying puts you in an environment that's conducive to outdoor play. Once you've packed away the kite, you might be tempted take a walk, run, or otherwise enjoy the outdoor setting. If you want to raise your heart rate while the kite is still up in the air, try kiteboarding. Preliminary research has shown its value as a cardio workout.
While most kites can be flown by one person, kite flying is often done in a group, whether it's simply a fun family outing or an organized festival or competition. As outdoor activities go, it's unusually inclusive, open to individuals of every age, size, and physical ability. A beautiful kite is also a natural conversation starter - an excuse to create happy memories with loved ones or strike up an acquaintance with a fellow kite flyer at the park. Considerable evidence shows that these kinds of social connections are crucial for individual health and well-being.
A colorful kite soaring gracefully overhead is a lovely sight. Making your own kite can be an act of artistry. But even the selection of a store-bought kite is a mode of personal expression and a celebration of what's beautiful to you. Think of it as having happiness on a string.
April is National Kite Month. To learn more, visit the American Kitefliers Association.