The weather is turning colder, the days are shorter and daylight savings time has made darkness come earlier in the evening. These factors make it harder for all of us to keep our bodies moving in the winter months. Much like bears who hibernate for the winter, many of us naturally want to spend less time outdoors and more time indoors cuddling up with a blanket on the couch. However, exercise and fresh-air have known health benefits and it pays to find ways to get outside and embrace the season.
Some of the biggest challenges to kids’ health can be helped by spending more time in the outdoors: obesity, ADHD, sensory processing disorders and type II diabetes to name a few. Researchers have been examining the health benefits of being outdoors and have found that spending time outdoors reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood and focus. It seems the combination of exercise and exposure to green space provides the most benefit.
So how can you get your family outside in nature this winter?
Dress for the Weather. Layer, layer, layer. A base layer tight to the skin can help to wick the moisture away from the body. The middle layer should provide insulation with down or fleece. The outer layer should be a good waterproof winter jacket and snow pants. In the extreme cold cover your face with a scarf or a buff, ski goggles can keep eyes warm. Hats should cover the entire head and ears. Boots with drawstrings on top can help to keep snow and ice out of the boots.
Keep Moving. Moving generates body heat which gets trapped in the insulating layer of your clothes and keeps us warmer. But it’s best to pace yourself. If you get too sweaty the damp clothing will make you colder. Kids have less body fat and mass than adults, so they will lose their heat faster when they stop. So keep breaks short.
Keep It Fun. Set up a target to throw snowballs at. Build a snow fort or snowman. Hide toys in the snow and let kids find them. Paint snow with a mixture of food coloring and water. Track animals. Rent snow shoes or nordic skis at your local nature center. Make nature ice balls by freezing nature finds in water. Go downhill skiing. Go on a scavenger hunt. Young kids enjoy being pulled in a sled while you walk. Try fat tire biking. Give your kids a shovel and ask them to help you clear the driveway, you may be surprised that they actually like to help with this chore.
There are a lot of winter events that can be fun for the whole family. Our clinic, South Lake Pediatrics, partners with Cycle Health that puts on a kid-centered winter race in Maple Grove called The Kidarod. This race is held in February and is filled with adventure and fun. My family has done it several times and it is super fun! Come and check it out! http://cyclehealth.org/
Stay Healthy. It is a common belief that being outside in cold weather can make us sick. But this is not the case. Cold and flu viruses tend to circulate in the winter months because we are cooped up indoors, in closer contact with each other, which helps the viruses to spread. Get outside, enjoy the fresh air and stay healthy.
Start small and set a goal to be outside for at least 15 minutes every day. Keep track on a calendar and reward yourselves at the end of the month. There will be sub-zero days when you don’t feel like going outside, but you can do anything for 15 minutes.
If you make it a habit to be outside every day when they are young, they are more likely to continue this healthy lifestyle as a teen and into adulthood. Give your kids the gift of developing the love of being outdoors!