Braving the Cold for Outdoor Family Fitness

Getting outdoor exercise for the whole family can be difficult in the winter months, especially when the weather is cold and sunset arrives early. What are the benefits of braving the winter weather and how can you make sure you and your family are exercising safely? Jacklyn Kiefer, DO, a family and sports medicine physician with ProMedica Physicians answers our questions about safe winter exercise.

What are the benefits of outdoor exercise, even in the winter?
All exercise is beneficial, but outdoor movement is important because nature provides unique emotional benefits, giving you a better sense of well-being. And even just 15 minutes of sunshine can keep your vitamin D levels healthy. When the winter days are warmer or sunnier than usual, take advantage of the weather and enjoy the outdoor time together as a family.

Bundle up, but pay attention to how you layer. Clothing created for outdoor winter sports are your best choice.

Dr. Jacklyn Kiefer

What are some good outdoor activities families can enjoy?
Snow presents some fun opportunities to get in a family workout. Sledding, snowball fights and building a snowman are all activities that can build a sweat and burn calories. The Toledo Metroparks does a wonderful job of coordinating outdoor adventures, including nature walks and outdoor work projects; and there are some local ice skating rinks. Brisk walks on a paved park trail or enjoying a park playground are also good ways to actively enjoy the outdoors.

What should we wear when exercising outdoors?
Bundle up, but pay attention to how you layer. Clothing created for outdoor winter sports are your best choice. For instance, performance fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin are better to wear than cotton because they keep you dry as you sweat beneath the layers of clothing. Water-resistant boots and performance socks can prevent wet, cold toes. In addition to a warm coat, hat, gloves, and scarves, wear reflective clothing that will help keep you visible and safe as darkness falls early in the winter months.

How do I know when it’s time for the family to head indoors?
The amount of time you spend outdoors depends on the daily weather. On especially cold or windy days, you may not be able to spend much time outdoors. Even when the weather isn’t too bad, take breaks from the outdoors and check up on your children at least every hour to make sure that they aren’t too cold or wet beneath their clothes. Also check for redness, which means it’s time to warm up.

What’s the best way to warm up after outdoor play?
Warm foods like hot cocoa and soup are usually welcome after coming in from the cold. A warm bath or shower can feel great, too, but be sure to avoid hot, steamy showers, which can dry out the skin. Use plenty of lotion to moisturize and protect skin from winter damage. Having a humidifier in the house can also help with skin issues and help family members with respiratory issues.

When is it best to stay indoors?
Watch the news for weather advisories and stay inside when the weather is too cold or windy. The weather won’t give you a cold, but if you or your children are sick, listen to your bodies and head indoors when you need to. There are plenty of opportunities for indoor exercise – host a dance party, play video games that require movement or dig out an action game like Twister. Indoor sports programs can also be an option for your children, so check with community centers to see what’s available. If you belong to a gym with a kids’ center, don’t be afraid to take your children with you. They sometimes have activities available to keep your kids moving.

Outdoor play provides some great emotional and physical benefits, so try to brave the cold when you can during the winter months. But if it’s too cold, it’s OK to stay inside. The important thing is that you stay active and healthy as a family.

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