When the temperatures turn cold, we tend to shut the doors and bundle up inside. But our cold-weather tendencies can put a damper on children’s exercise routines, as well as our own.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children 6 to 17 years old. With daylight saving shortening sunlight, fall sports leagues ending and more, there are plenty of ways exercise can fall to the wayside from December through March.
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Here, two local registered dietitians, Brittany Cines, R.D., L.D., CNSC, CNP and Lise Gloede, M.S., RDN, CDE, share their tips on how to keep kids moving through the winter, and how it can benefit you too.
Since cooler temperatures tend to bring us inside, how should kids be getting physical exercise at home during the winter months?
BC: It is just as important for kids to stay active during the winter as it is during the summer, but accomplishing this often involves more effort and planning. Remember that kids are resilient and the frigid temperatures does not have to stop them from getting some fresh air. Bundle your child up and walk the dog, head to the playground or take them sledding! Of course, there are also plenty of indoor activities that kids can do to get moving without wearing all the layers. Consider signing your child up for winter sports, such as basketball or indoor soccer, or finding classes at a nearby dance studio. The whole family can also be active together at home by doing an exercise video, household chores or enjoying a dance party.
What physical activities outside of the home would you suggest for kids and families?
BC: Most kids get a portion of their one hour of physical activity (as suggested by the CDC) from P.E. class at school, but it often isn’t enough. On weekends, consider activities such as ice skating, laser tag, gymnastics, indoor play spaces, bowling, an indoor pool and more.
LG: It’s always best to make it fun, so thinking about indoor options such as ice skating, snow hikes, indoor tennis and soccer, or just walking with the family on the weekends. These are all good and helpful. Finding new stores at the mall and walking around the mall while catching up with your kids and having a scavenger hunt in the mall or other big area is another idea. Anything that requires movement and can be worked into a game, challenge or social activity is key.
What are a few ways to motivate children to exercise during the winter?
BC: Children do not tend to need as much motivation to exercise compared to adults. In fact, children should not view it as exercise at all, but rather they should see these activities as fun! When we set limitations on sedentary activities such as watching television, it isn’t as difficult to get them moving. One big incentive for some kids is a step tracker such as a Fitit to serve as a motivator.
LG: Well that applies to adults too! After all, if parents aren’t exercising or fitting movement into their week, how can we expect our kids to do so? I think my approach is not really about exercise, it’s about movement and finding ways to do it with the family to connect, or to make it into a game.
If a child is hesitant to exercise, what is the best way for a parent to start the conversation to get them moving?
BC: I am a big proponent of explaining the importance of a balanced diet and regular physical activity to our children so that they can take more independence over keeping their bodies healthy. Rather than emphasize words like weight and calories, I prefer to use phrases like more energy, stronger, happier and “better grades in school.”
LG: Be the example and do it with them. Have the expectation that everyone is going hiking on Saturday, for example, and proceed.
What are the overall benefits of kids staying active during the winter?
BC: The health benefits of children being physically active during the winter are the same as the benefits during the summer. Exercise not only helps to prevent long-term issues such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, but we also know that there are a lot of cognitive and mental health benefits to getting a child’s body moving each day.
Is there anything else parents should know about keeping their kids healthy through the winter?
BC: According to the American Heart Association, kids spend an average of eight hours per day using some form of media while the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of one to two hours per day. While no one is perfect, we should all try to be mindful of how our children are spending their time. Also, I believe that the key to achieving our children’s physical activity goals is to keep them busy and to join them!
LG: Parents always want the best for kids, so in their free time, they should think about creating ways to make movement fun (so it lasts and is memorable in a good way), as well as thinking about these health habits as time to connect. That will make a huge difference. You can’t force your kid to move and you don’t want to make it World War III. Healthy eating is very important too, so eat meals with your kids, only keep favorite treats in the house, don’t make them a big deal and arrange your kitchen and home environment so the healthy choice is the easy choice. Again, be an example of healthy living and it’s easier for kids to follow.