Next Gen: Keeping little bodies active during winter

By Susanna Barbee | Jan 01, 2014
Duncan family of Waynesville, Front Row: Ethan, Emma, Back Row: Evans, Angie

When frost blankets the grass and icicles hang from the gutters, it’s hard to think about playing outside, but keeping children active, even during the most frigid of months, is vitally important.

According to an NBC News article, researchers believe that children burn about half as many calories in the winter months as they do during the summer months. Further, they eat more during the winter. The combination of consuming more food and exercising less can be detrimental for many young people.

Angie Duncan, Waynesville mom to Emma, 4, and Ethan, 2, works to keep her family active during the coldest time of the year.

“Keeping children active during the winter months is extremely important for their growth and development. Being active as a part of everyday life will help in so many different areas including social skills, health, and development.  Physical activity will also help your children sleep and eat better,” said Duncan.

Indoor Activities

Parents often think of going outside when considering exercise for their children, but there are many indoor options as well. Children are naturally bursting with energy, so provide them opportunities to expend it in a fun and physical way.

Games such as Twister, Limbo, and the Nintendo Wii are wonderful ways for children to say active when the temperatures are bitterly cold. If you have an open floor plan, rec room, covered porch, basement, or garage, allow children to ride scooters, tricycles or bicycles inside.

There are also many facilities and locations in this area that provide a number of options for indoor recreation.

“We are members at Medwest Fitness Center,” said Duncan. “We utilize their facility for many things. My daughter takes ballet, and my son is enrolled in a mommy and toddler swimming class. They offer many different activities for your little ones to do. Allowing your children to swim for fun, not as part of a formal lesson, is also a great way to keep them active.”

The Waynesville Recreation Center also offers a pool and many classes for children. Other options include the Smoky Mountain Jumphouse, Mountain Play Lodge, bowling, roller skating, or merely walking around the mall and allowing children to play at the foot court play area.

Outdoor Activities

To ensure that children are safe, there are some guidelines to consider regarding how cold is too cold to play outside. According to the website, it is safe to play outside when the temperature falls at 32 degrees or higher. Be sure to bundle children in layers including hats and mittens. Remember that babies and toddlers develop hypothermia faster because they move around less than older children, so dress them in an extra layer of clothing.

If parents do take children out when it’s colder than 32 degrees, watch for signs that they are too cold such as shivering or fatigue. It’s wise to take indoor breaks every 20 or 30 minutes, and always switch out wet gloves and clothes for dry ones, as the wetness can make the body temperature drop more quickly.

“We still play outside on days that are not too windy,” said Duncan. “We have a fenced-in yard where my children love to run and play with their dog. We don’t stay out as long as we do in the warmer months, but I believe it is important for children to get some fresh air in their lungs.”

If children are bundled up well, they can play the same types of games and ride the same equipment as they do in warmer months.  Further, take advantage of winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. These activities are fun and strenuous on the body. Cataloochee offers ski and snowboarding lessons for children of all ages as well as season passes so families can visit all throughout the winter.

Behavioral/Emotional Benefits

Exercise is beneficial for individuals of all ages. Staying active boosts mood and immunity; further, it helps maintain a healthy weight which in turn positively affects one’s self-esteem.

According to the NBC News article, children are crackling with energy but do not possess the ability to self-initiate exercising. If parents organize an activity or take children to a fun place to play, they will take advantage of the situation.

Also, when children are indoors too long, sibling quarrels can ensue and family tension can rise. If for no other reason, get the family outside to increase serotonin levels and put everyone in good spirits.

Remember to keep winter activities fun and safe. Switch up the games, equipment, and location to keep play adventurous. Whether they’re playing indoors or outdoors, make sure they’re playing safely with the correct gear and have enough space so they won’t injure themselves.

As Duncan said, “Keeping children active, even in the coldest months, will help them lead healthier, happier lives.”