Keeping Your Kids Active During the Winter
Think about creating ways to make exercise fun and using these healthy habits as time to connect
The days are getting shorter, winter is approaching and kids are spending more time indoors. While young people may not be getting as much exercise as they would ordinarily get outdoors during the summer, being active throughout the winter remains important for their physical and mental health. Plus, it can be fun with a little creativity on the part of their parents.
The problems with being less active
A lack of physical activity can lead to other health-related issues — both physical and mental — in children.
More screen time
When kids are less active, they often spend more time looking at screens, which can contribute to unhealthy habits. “Excess screen time is associated with more snacking, poorer sleep and sometimes behavioral issues,” says Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, South Philadelphia.
Poor performance in school
When kids lose sleep and experience mood swings as a result of a lack of exercise and increased screen time, they often perform more poorly in school. “The message is clear: Physically active kids are physically and psychologically healthier and perform better in school,” says Matt Student, executive director at the Phoenixville YMCA.
Creative ways to stay active
Keeping kids active during the winter may seem challenging. Plenty of ways exist for young people to get exercise indoors and outdoors throughout the colder months.
Indoor dance parties
Dance parties are perfect for families with younger and older kids. “You can make it into a game and play freeze dance with little kids or learn a new dance with older kids,” Lockwood says.
Indoor obstacle course
Setting up a simple obstacle course with objects you can easily find in your house works well for little ones. “For toddlers or preschoolers, you can build an indoor obstacle course with pillows and chairs that challenges them to hop, crawl and jump around your house,” Lockwood says.
Local sports programs
Check out what your local YMCA branch has to offer for winter activities. “The Greater Philadelphia YMCA has many options for keeping kids active during the winter,” Student says. “Our programs include sports, swim lessons, gymnastics, dance and more.”
At-home games and exercises
Kids can do many activities at home that require nothing but their bodies.
“Simple games like ‘red light, green light’ or hide-and-seek can be played inside to encourage moving around,” Lockwood says. “Another relatively easy idea is calisthenics, which are exercises that only rely on your body weight, like squat jumps, pushups and jumping jacks.”
Of course, just because its cold doesn’t mean you can’t go outside.
“Kids are pretty resilient, and the cold temperatures do not have to stop them from getting some fresh air,” Student says. “Bundle up your child and walk the dog, head to the playground or take them sledding!”
Several outdoor activities can also get kids moving. “Take advantage of winter weather to try things like building a snowman, sledding or shoveling your sidewalk or driveway to get your heart rate up and stretch,” Lockwood says.
How can parents help?
Parents play an important role in ensuring that their kids get enough exercise during the winter.
Make it fun
Creative, varied activities that you can do as a family make exercise less daunting. “Think about creating ways to make exercise fun and using these healthy habits as time to connect,” Student says.
Eating well is also important in making sure kids have the necessary energy to stay active during the winter. “Eat meals with your kids and come up with fun and healthy options as a family,” Student says.
Model healthy behaviors
By staying active themselves, parents can set a good example for their kids.
“Parents have an important role in setting screen time limits and modeling healthy exercise behaviors,” Lockwood says. “You can do exercises together to make it a family activity or hold a family competition to make it fun.”
It’s simple: “Be an example of healthy living, and it’s easier for kids to follow,” Student says.
With the right mindset and a few creative plans, your family will be able to have an active and fun winter.
This piece first appeared in the November 2021 issue of MetroKids.