Winter is here, and even in many southern regions, cold weather is a regular occurrence this time of year. However, even when the weather is cold, there are benefits to being outdoors, including:
Fresh air: There’s nothing quite as refreshing as breathing in chilly, fresh air.; it can make you feel more awake, alive, and energized. Moreover, according to a report from the PA Department of Health, going outside does not make you sick. While the viruses that cause illness may be more common in winter, it’s circulated air in closed environments that is the main cause of illness.
Vitamin D: Sunshine does more than warm you up. Spending just 10 minutes in the sunshine will provide the daily dose of vitamin D we need, which helps improve our mood and over health.
Muscle and bone strengthening: We all know exercise makes your stronger, and it's even more important for our children as they develop muscle and bone. According to the CDC, regular exercise helps kids develop lifelong healthy habits and prevents serious health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Boosting creativity: While we are outside getting the physical benefits of fresh air and sunshine our minds are being exercised, too. Imaginative family play can help develop creativity and family fun. The snow can turn parks, backyards and playgrounds into completely different worlds with challenges to help develop and expand our minds.
Functional fitness: The winter months also provide us with different ways of moving our bodies, think of sledding down the walking back hill, building a snowman, throwing snowballs, using our core to maintain balance, etc. Our larger muscles are put to great use in the winter months due to the challenges that snow provides. This large-muscle use and increase in physical activity support muscle development and overall health.
So how do we maximize our time outside and make it the most enjoyable? Proper dress is a critical element. Be sure to select the right clothes for cold, wet, and/or snowy weather. Extremities such as ears, hands, and feet are more prone to cold-weather exposure, so ensure you have appropriate gear. Keep the body warm with hats, mittens, scarves, socks, boots, and a coat or snowsuit depending on the activity and exposure. Mittens are better for keeping hands warm, as fingers generate more heat when they are not separated from each other, as with gloves. However, gloves can provide better dexterity, so having both on hand is a good idea. Choose mittens and gloves that are waterproof and insulated with either down or a synthetic down. Snow pants are also a smart choice, be sure you can move in them, that they provide an adequate insulation rating for the weather, and most importantly, they should be waterproof. Some also have elastic at the bottom to keep them snug and keep water out. Whatever gear you use, try to avoid cotton as this material absorbs sweat. Wet cotton mixed with cold weather makes for a cold family! Finally, if you're going on an extended hike, or will be out for the day, it's a good idea to bring extra clothes that you can change into after outdoor adventure. Also, for highly active days, consider layering. With proper layering, some layers may be taken off if you get too warm.
Plan fun games that you can play as a family to keep everyone engaged. Some ideas:
Make a list of five things to find on your walk, the first family member to find all five gets to come up with the next list, and so on.
If it's snowing, parents can help build snow forts, snow families or snow animals. Let children use their creativity to come up with figures to build.
Create snow art by mixing food coloring with water in spray bottles and use it to paint masterpieces.
Hang a target in a tree and use it to measure how accurate you can throw snowballs. (You can try throwing hats on the heads of your snow creatures.)
Check out the local playground. Try to think of ways to use it in the snow. Can you go down the slide and "snowplow" the snow off the bedway? What about swinging and creating patterns in the snow with your feet?
Blow bubbles and chase them, see how long they last without popping (bubbles are more resilient in colder weather.)
Be sure to use common sense when playing outside in the winter, and pay attention to the wind chill, which can make the temperature's effect much colder than what the thermometer says. With proper precautions, playing outside in the winter months can be both fun and beneficial!