Get Active and Beat the Winter Blues

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I often think about the memories my children will carry into their adulthood of playing with dad (me!). Riding bikes, splashing in the pool or the many trips to the playground are all great things we do in warm weather. But don’t feel stuck indoors when the weather goes cold. Winter can also be a time filled with cold weather exercises for you and your children to create memories that last a lifetime. This blog will focus on understanding how the cold weather affects the body, a few health and safety tips to remember, and some cold weather activities the entire family can enjoy.

How Cold Weather Affects the Body

Additionally, cold weather in general may have additional impacts on the body.

To learn more about how cold weather affects the body I spoke with Tracy Zaslow, MD, medical director of Children’s Orthopaedic Center (COC) and Sports Medicine and Concussion Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Did you know holiday food and festivities are not the only things packing on the winter pounds? Dr. Zaslow believes there is a connection between the cold weather and an inactive lifestyle. When it's cold outside people are less inclined to do outdoor activities and tend to be less active. When living a less active lifestyle, metabolism tends to be slower. Body metabolism is how the body burns calories to provide energy for bodily function.

Additionally, cold weather in general may have additional impacts on the body; a recent study discovered that brown fat cells (present in babies and in the upper chest and neck of some adults) burn more energy when the body is exposure to cold. However, experts say recommendations for physical activity remain the same during the cold months:

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  • Children: One hour of physical activity per day
  • Adults: At least 30 minutes of physical activity, five days per week

Activity and exercise is critical in maintaining a healthy metabolism to burn off excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.

kid and dad with ice skatesHealth and Safety Tips for Cold Weather

Regardless of winter activity, health and safety should always be a priority for you and your child. Dr. Zaslow recommends these health and safety tips:

  1. Prepare your child for cold weather. Bundle up appropriately to prevent hypothermia (really low body temperature) in extremely cold weather. Don’t forget to protect fingers with gloves when playing in the snow.
  2. Prepare for activity. Take 15 to 20 minutes to warm up you and your child’s body for cold weather exercise. Light jogging should be enough to get the blood flowing throughout the body. Do range of motion exercises like windmills or squats to warm up the joints and muscles because static stretching (e.g. bending to touch your toes) when the muscles are cold is not good for the body.
  3. Use safety equipment. Properly fitting helmets are important in minimizing head injuries in winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding and even ice-skating. Wrist guards are also a great idea. Some companies now make winter gloves with built-in wrist guards. First time ski and snowboarders might also look into padded underwear to protect your hips and tailbones.
  4. Use well maintained gear that fits. Many snow-sport injuries occur due to ill-fitting equipment that is poorly maintained. If you are renting equipment, use a reputable company with staff trained to properly outfit you and your child.
  5. Know when to stop and rest. Dr. Zaslow (an avid skier) says, “Injuries seem to occur on the last run of the day.” Exhaustion can be a major factor of injury in any sport that demands your full attention. Try to end the activity wanting more.

Cold Weather Activities

Aside from the obviously great winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding with the kids, consider other alternatives to get the family out of the house and active. Some alternative outdoor activities I love to do with my children include:

  • Ice-skating. You can find indoor facilities to ice skate year round. Don’t forget the safety gear!
  • Sledding. Sledding together and constantly running up the snow hill will feel just like a day running miles on a sandy beach.
  • Hiking. It’s always fun to feel bundled up outdoors. Better yet, set up a scavenger hunt or game of “I Spy” for the kids in search of certain items found in nature.

Here are some indoor activities to consider for those not willing to brave the cold:

  • Indoor rock climbing
  • Laser tag. This brings back memories of the 1980s, and the kids love running wild indoors. Gloria offers safety tips around lasers.
  • Visit a museum or science center. Some facilities are so large that walking to view all the exhibits definitely gets your family walking a lot.

Don’t let cold weather be an excuse for not getting out of the house to play with your children. When asked what she remembers from her childhood, Dr. Zaslow fondly remembers skiing with her dad and how that time spent brings her warm thoughts, to this day. The time spent now enjoying your child’s company will surely create the fond memories and a lifestyle that they will remember and pass on for generations.