Keeping Kids Active Outside All Winter Long

Everyone knows this essential truth: children enjoy playing outside. “A standard recommendation for well-child visits with my patients is the ‘9-5-3-2-1-zero’ guideline,” says Spokane-based pediatrician Dr. Matt Thompson, regarding a child’s daily needs. “This means at least nine hours of adequate sleep, five servings of fruits and vegetables, three glasses of water, two hours or less of non-educational screen time, at least one hour of physical activity – any combination of school recess, P.E. and playtime at home; [and] no sweetened drinks, no eating in front of screens.”

Good habits start young – active kids tend to become active, healthier teenagers and then eventually active healthy adults in our community.

“Physically active is defined as 60 minutes of physical activity on five or more days per week,” according to Heleen Dewey from the Spokane Regional Health District, who works as the Active Living lead in the Healthy Communities Program. “In 2014 in Spokane County, 57.1 percent of adolescents reported meeting the recommendation for physical activity…. But physical activity here, similar to many cities, decreases as age increases….Youth not physically active were 43 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, 82 percent more likely to be diabetic and 60 percent more likely to be depressed.”

These are serious health risks. One may not like winter weather or be able to ski, but the Inland Northwest’s four-season climate requires adaptation and resiliency. Here are some ways to encourage and coach your kids to be more active outside this winter.

Acquire weather-proof clothing for your children to stay dry and warm. Good-quality water- and wind-proof coats, pants, boots and gloves can be found at after-holiday clearance sales, some second-hand stores or on Craigslist. Or check local “Buy Nothing” or consignment groups on Facebook.

Go sledding or tubing, ice skating or snowshoeing. Find a local sledding hill or travel to one of the local ski mountains that operate tubing hills. Snowshoes are inexpensive to rent, especially from local university outdoor programs. Riverfront Park Ice Palace is open through February 28, 2016.

Walk or bike. Children spend too much time riding in cars or strollers. One way to push-back against the temptation to be indoors and sedentary (riding in a car technically qualifies as both) is to encourage kids to walk or bike where they need to go – whether it’s school, a public library, a friend’s house or neighborhood park or playground. Attach Nathan reflective stickers or tape to children’s bikes, helmets, coats or backpacks. Use a combination of fun NightIze LED lighting options, such as lights for bike spokes and shoelaces, or LED wraps for an arm, leg or wrist. Both children and adults can wear reflective vests – it’s not geeky; it’s smart.

Do outdoor chores. Similar to mowing lawns or raking leaves, shoveling snow is good exercise. This type of active play helps children develop strong and healthy joints and muscles – their proprioceptive senses – according to Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, author of the forthcoming book “Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children” (to be published April 22, 2016). One doesn’t have to live on a ranch or farm to do heavy work. Think creatively. Find elderly neighbors who need help.

Enjoy 10-minute bursts of outdoor activity. Short intervals of exercise, according to Dr. Thompson, is beneficial. Many bursts throughout a day allow children to obtain their recommended 60 minutes of physical activity. Play group games like Anti-I-Over, or, if there’s snow on the ground, Fox and Geese – both are old-fashioned versions of tag (see for details and more ideas). Go to a local park and pretend to be explorers in search of food and shelter. Use your imagination, be intentional, have fun with your kids. Everybody wins – and the prize is hot cocoa. //

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