We’ve had some crazy weather lately in North Carolina. In early December, we experienced one of the biggest snows we’ve had in a long while then over the past couple of weeks, temperatures have been drastically cold, even causing streaming mountain waterfalls to freeze solid in their cascading tracks. It’s very tempting to hole up inside beside a cozy fire with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and munch on some appetizers. This type of behavior, if continued all winter, can be negative for our health.
1. Weight maintenance: I remember reading an article that said children burn about half as many calories in the winter months than during the summer months. That’s crazy. I always worry about the boys being less active in the winter, bur I didn’t realize the difference in calories burned was so drastic. The article also said people eat more during the winter, which is not surprising with all of the holidays and sitting around trying to get warm. With obesity on the rise, the combination of consuming more food and exercising less can be detrimental for individuals of all ages, but especially for kids and adolescents.
2. Increased mood/decreased depression and anxiety: Like everyone, I have days or weeks where my mood is low. Sometimes there are clear reasons and other times, I can’t figure out the cause. But one thing I know for sure is exercising helps me feel better. I’ve researched the relationship between exercise and depression for myself and others around me. Apparently, there are several reasons for the correlation. Exercise releases “feel good” neurotransmitters such as endorphins, that boost mood. Physical activity also increases body temperature which can produce a calming effect. Further, exercise increases confidence, socialization and distracts the mind from worries, all which battle depression and anxiety.
3. Bolstered immunity: I’ve heard that exercise helps boost immunity but wasn’t clear exactly how it did that. I’ve certainly noticed that I’ve been healthier since running and working out on a regular basis. I looked this up as well and an article by Harvard Health Publications said, “Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.” With the flu and other scary illnesses going around, it’s imperative both parents and children get enough exercise, especially during the coldest and sickest months of the year.
4. New experiences: Yes, I enjoy traditional exercise more in the warmer months. Obviously, it’s more pleasant to run, bike and hike when the weather is nice. But we don’t need to dismiss winter entirely as a great time of year for physical activity. I love to snowboard so for me, it’s a no-brainer, but for those of you that don’t yet feel confident with a winter sport, perhaps now is the time. From snowshoeing to skiing and snowboarding to ice skating and tubing, there are plenty of options for everyone in the family.
5. Fun: I think even adults can admit that flying down a hill on a sled is exhilarating, so one advantage of staying active in the cold is the fun and excitement of snowy activities. Whether it’s a true winter sport like the ones mentioned above, sledding, winter hikes, a simple snowball fight or building a snowman, all of these activities can burn hundreds of calories and offer hours of stimulation, so never miss out on a snow day to get outside.
After the magic and hype of the holidays, January and February are hard for a lot of reasons. Don’t let the cold get you down or prevent you from being active. There are plenty of options and opportunities if you seek the five results listed above. As parents, it’s especially important we teach our children to stay moving during the frigid times of year because as we know, habits and skills they learn as youngsters will stick with them a lifetime.