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In summer heat, new zoo trail offers exercise and shade

August 9, 2018

It can be difficult to keep San Antonio students active over summer break and off their electronic devices, but a new collaboration between the San Antonio Zoo and the University Health System aims to do both while mostly in the shade and near the zoo’s creatures.

“Kids in San Antonio generally are less active in the summer than they are in the winter,” said Dr. Robert Sanders, a pediatrician and the associate medical director of PediExpress, the UHS pediatric urgent care center. “Schools do provide some physical activities during the school year, as (do) other organized sports, but during the summer in San Antonio it’s so hot that what I’ve found in talking to families and kids is that the vast majority of them ... are spending time inside.”

One potential solution? The zoo’s newly installed fitness trail, a mile long and looping past enclosures containing all sorts of animals.

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“It’s a neat collaboration between the zoo and the health system for so many reasons,” Sanders said. “The primary one is just to get families out there together, being active and doing something that’ll get them outside and get them exercising.”

With its combination of shade, good views of animals and a vehicle-free walking environment, he added, the trail is a “nice, safe place for families to go spend time together.”

Signposts mark every quarter-mile of the path and also feature health tips on how to reduce the risk of heart disease and maintain a health body weigh, among other issues. Research shows a third of Texas children are overweight or obese, with an even higher prevalence among Hispanic children.

Jill Reed, who came to the zoo with her 4-year-old daughter Scarlett, didn’t know about the trail before arriving, but it fit her needs all the same.

“She gets some energy out and sees the animals,” Reed said of her preschool daughter. “She loves it.”

Sanders said the trail also provides an alternative to that other summer-break go-to: technology.

“Obviously the health benefits are huge as far as getting the exercise (and) getting out, away from electronic devices and tablets,” Sanders said.

The trail gives walkers the chance to see everything from komodo dragons to flamingos, warthogs to gazelles.

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Denise Fluitt came to the zoo from La Vernia with her four grandchildren — Trae Fluitt, 10, Emma Pawlik, 8, Thomas Fluitt, 7, and Lila Pawlik, 4 — and said they were having fun, even in the 97-degree heat.

“We’re loving (the trail), but it’s hot,” she said as her grandkids looked at a nearby giant anteater. “Everybody’s out of school right now, getting ready to go back, so we’ve been trying to do as many things as we can.”

The fitness trail is not the first collaboration between the University Health System and the San Antonio Zoo. UHS provides medical supplies for the zoo’s first-aid program, plus flu shots and first-aid training for zoo staff, while the zoo sometimes hosts special events for UHS patients, according to a joint press release from the two organizations.

“We may have different functions, but we have shared goals, so we look for ways we can work toward those common goals,” said Elizabeth Allen, public relations manager for UHS. “Community health, obviously, is a big one for both of us.”

Brian Contreras is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. @_B_Contreras_

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