When the light wanes, the mercury dips and the snow falls in the dead of winter, the temptation is high for families and children to retreat inside and dial back on outdoor activities. However, getting outside – even in the winter – can be very beneficial.
According to Donna Krug, Family and Consumer Science Agent with the K-State Extension Cottonwood District, spending some measured time outdoors can be good for all of us.
“I think most people, maybe, have that mental block that ‘I don’t think I want to do this, it’s going to be cold,’” Krug said. But those who push past the initial negativity feel different after they’re done. “You feel better, you know, you’ve got those endorphins going,” she said.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the idea of being outdoors this time of year at a time when people are starting to consider their New Year’s resolutions. Krug said it really does not take much.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, she said, recommends 30 minutes of activity five days a week, but even 15-20 minutes outdoors can be beneficial.
“Start slow, don’t jump into something that’s unrealistic,” she said. “Pick something that you want to do, and make it realistic. There’s a much better chance of success.”
Finding someone else to be active with can help, too.
“There’s a lot more accountability when you have a partner. It could be a spouse, it could be a neighbor, it could be your child, it could be a dog. It’s something that will help you to stay accountable to meeting your goal.”
Having the accountability can also help form a habit, and she said making activity a habit, especially this time of year, is important.
Being outside, even in the colder weather, Krug said, can offer several physical and mental health benefits.
For those who work inside, sometimes outdoor activity can be a refresher from the routine of the day, even if it’s just a walk around the block or down the street.
“It helps people get refocused,” Krug said. “It gets blood flowing better and helps you to just have a more positive outlook.”
For kids, especially, in the tech age, outdoor activity can help encourage play and limit their screen time.
“It’s getting kids to put down the electronic device and go outside,” Krug said. “With our young people, 60 minutes or more is what’s recommended because we are seeing a higher incidence of childhood obesity or overweight. Anytime you can limit screen time, you are probably promoting physical activity because kids are not going to just sit there and do nothing; they’re going to want to be active.”
But, Krug said, the kids do not have to go out by themselves. Outdoor activities can be a good way to reconnect families.
“Find out what the kids enjoy and build that in,” she said.
Reminiscing about her own time growing up on a farm sledding and ice skating, Krug said getting outdoors in the winter can provide children memories that will last a lifetime.
“My cousin would come from Nebraska,” she said. “My favorite was when it would have snowed, and we would make Fox and Geese trails on this pond by shoveling paths, and then we would play tag. We expended so much energy and after that we would go back (to the house for) hot chocolate.”
Locally, one winter activity Krug recommends is ice skating as a family at the rink in Jack Kilby Square. However, she stressed there are many different options to consider, including setting aside the automobile commute to and from work if the conditions are appropriate.
“It takes 10 minutes to warm up your car, but it takes me 12 minutes to ride from my house to my office,” she said.
And parents, she said, can use the Christmas season as a time to encourage their kids to be active.
Because it is important to be properly attired and prepared in colder temperatures, outdoor clothing and warm layers can be a good gift. One item she suggested is giving hand and foot warmers as stocking stuffers as a means to encourage activity.
To help children be healthier and more active, she said, parents need to be the models for their kids.
“If you are excited about going outside in 20-degree weather and having some family activities outdoors, then your family will be excited.” The opposite will be true “if you’re kind of dreading it and complaining and negative,” she said. “So, a lot of it is in the parental attitude towards that colder weather.”
You do not have to hibernate this winter. Bundle up, step outside, stay healthy, and make some memories.
“You just don’t regret it,” Krug said.
If you would like more tips on promoting a healthy lifestyle for your family in the winter, and throughout the year, Krug authored an “Action Plan for Healthy Living,” available at the Cottonwood District extension office, 1802 12th St., Great Bend.