Physical activity is essential, no matter the season, but it’s much easier when the weather is warm and the days are long. How do you encourage your family to stay active when the days grow shorter and colder?
It’s important to remember that daily exercise in kids helps to maintain strong muscles and bones, support cardiovascular health, boost the immune system, improve mental health and reduce the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Staying active also improves sleep.
“Whether it’s summer or winter, we really want to focus on children getting an hour of physical activity per day,” says Dr. Ross Newman, a pediatrician at Eugene Pediatric Associates. “And we want to combo that with less than two hours of entertainment-based screen time.”
Make it fun
An hour of activity each day doesn’t have to happen all at once for kids to benefit, says Dr. Newman. If schedules are busy, aim for a few 15- to 20-minute bursts of movement throughout the day, whether you’re outdoors or indoors. Get creative and, most importantly, try to make it fun.
“So, what my family does is we normalize going for a hike in the rain. We do dance parties; we wrestle, we take walks with the dog or go on family bike rides. All of these things can add up to that one cumulative hour of exercise per day.”
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Keep it light to encourage children to participate.
“It should always be fun,” Dr. Newman says. “Lots of times, I’m out jumping on the trampoline in the rain with my kids, or we’re going mud puddle jumping—anything that really keeps your heart rate up and keeps your body moving.”
Outdoor and indoor ideas
Here are some ideas for fun, outdoor activities from Children’s Health:
- Take family bike rides or walks.
- Make a nature collage. Have kids collect rocks, leaves and twigs in your yard or at a nearby park, then assemble them into a collage.
- Shoot baskets, throw a baseball, jump rope or go for a scooter ride.
- Have backyard relay races. Time your family doing relays across the yard while dribbling a ball, skipping or hopping.
- Enjoy the snow. Build a snowman. Have a snowball-throwing contest. Go for sled rides.
If staying inside, try some of these fun ideas:
- Create an indoor obstacle course with household items that encourages kids to crawl, jump or hop.
- Organize a scavenger hunt and challenge your children to race to find items on their list.
- If you’re spending time in front of the TV, get up with your kids during the commercial breaks and do simple exercises like sit-ups or jumping jacks.
- Play video games that require you to move your body.
“And don’t forget that kids still need to make sure they’re drinking enough water to go pee 5-6 times per day,” Dr. Newman says. “If they feel thirsty, they’re probably already behind, so make sure you carry water with you.”
Dr. Newman also encourages families to apply sunscreen during the winter months, even if it’s cloudy outside. The sun’s rays are especially reflective off of snow and water, increasing the risk of sunburn. Make sure kids are bundled up if they’re going to be outside in the cold winter months and encourage them to come in regularly to change wet clothes.