Healthy Kids All Winter Long

By Beth Cline

Ask any parent if they think their child is physically fit and nine out of ten will respond with a resounding “yes.” But according to a recent study by the University of Missouri-Columbia, 60 percent of those parents will be wrong. The study found that only 3 in 10 children are, in fact, physically fit.

As the days get shorter in these winter months, children start to spend more and more time inside in front of the fireplace or the warm glow of the television, and spend less time involved in physical activity. Teaching children to continue exercise even in the colder, busy winter months promotes long-term health and strengthens commitments to healthy habits while promoting a child’s fitness level, their self-confidence and body image.

While many parents are concerned for their child’s health if they play outside in the cold weather, studies show fresh air can reduce the spread of colds, germs and the flu. It is not uncommon for children to remain indoors with little fresh air circulation throughout the colder months of the year. Parents should allow their children limited amounts of time outside while being considerate of outdoor temperatures and the often-overlooked wind chill factor. Most importantly, dress children in gloves, coats, hats, scarves, boots and whatever else is necessary to maintain warmth as they go out to play during the winter months. Parents should remember a few safety tips when allowing their children to go out in the cold:

  • Wear several layers
  • Be sure to warm up muscles in advance of running around in the cold
  • Shed layers slowly once children come inside to allow their bodies to adjust to the temperature change
  • Drink lots of water- children may not feel as thirsty in the cold as they do in the heat but they can still get dehydrated

Sometimes the weather is just not conducive to outdoor play. Parents can generate some fun by breaking the standard rules and setting up an indoor play area for their children. Designate an area of the house for rougher play without the fear of breaking valuable objects and furniture—treat the kids by clearing the room of breakables.

The winter offers a wide variety of organized sports and free play activities in which children can participate, both outside and inside. Take advantage of the unique exercise opportunities snowy weather offers. Bundle up and enjoy sledding, building snowmen or having a snowball fight. Shoveling and even walking in the snow provide great cardio workouts. Give children the opportunity to learn a new skill by teaching them to play hockey, ice skate or ski. Most skating rinks and ski slopes offer lessons for young beginners and children of all ability levels. This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to refresh their own skills, or learn with their children and set a healthy example.

If indoor activities are more your child’s speed, there are many ways to extend your child’s active habits in the cold winter months. Many recreation centers offer winter leagues in sports like basketball, indoor soccer and swimming. Also, try local dance studios and gyms for activities ranging from karate to gymnastics. Many local schools will offer access to their gymnasiums for pick-up games of basketball and kickball.

The whole family can get involved in staying active during the winter. Joining a gym allows family members of all ages to take classes and workout in ways that appeal to them. Most gyms offer classes for children to keep exercise fun and allow for parents to complete their own work out. Other more informal family activities could include bowling, renting a physical fitness video to try together or playing an active game like Twister or Simon Says.

Lon Martin, Director of Youth Sports for Marine Corps Base Quantico, stresses that especially in the winter, physical activity is important “to keep children away from the television and “GameBoys.”

Children can do simple things to remain active, even while watching television. Here are some suggested activities:

  • Commercials are the perfect two-minute opportunity to do sit ups, stretches or run in place before the show returns. Children can also try jumping rope or walking up and down the stairs a few times to get their heart rate up.
  • Challenge children to a jumping jack contest. See who can do the most during the commercial break, or see who can last the longest.
  • Push-ups are a great way to build a child’s upper body strength. A child’s age plus one is a good starting point.

Cold winter months give children a chance to be creative with their workouts and physical activities. The best guidelines for kids are to just keep moving, allowing their heart rates and imaginations to increase by inventing their own ideas for exercise.

This winter, parents and children should welcome the opportunities for activity that the colder months offer. Only by stepping away from the glow of the TV or coming out from behind the frosty windowpane, can more children experience the fun and the benefits of being physically active.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps

Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run. The Healthy Kids Fun Run is held every October in Arlington, VA on the day prior to the Marine Corps Marathon.

Visit  Beth Cline is a member of the Marine Corps Marathon marketing staff.


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