winter-playby: Dr Cheryl Bettigole, Director: Get Healthy Philly

Winter is here, along with its familiar spirit of cold, cozy nights and bitter, chilly mornings. At a recent Get Healthy Philly staff meeting, we began brainstorming ways for families to remain healthy and active in the colder weather. I thought back to when my three sons were little. The images that came to mind were all of the activities they came up with themselves. Activities like sliding headfirst down the stairs on camping mats. Or prepping for the spring baseball season by running pitching practice in the living room. Or piling every pillow in the house on the floor and jumping off the couch arms onto the pile. It takes a lot to shake a stone house, but it can be done. Which brings me to my actual memory of how we kept our kids active in the winter, which was by following the simple rule “always take the kids outside.”

As a family doctor, I know that outside play has huge benefits for kids. The physical activity helps prevent obesity, and the free play helps build creativity and resilience. Being outside in nature also helps kids stay calm, as does the freedom to run off steam. Kids will often invent their own games outside, but if they need help, simple games like tag, kickball (use a brightly colored ball in the snow!), and soccer can help get them started. And if you join in, you’ll both stay warmer and get some exercise yourself, not to mention having fun.

Of course with three active sons, I didn’t really take my kids outside whenever I could because of all those benefits, although I do think they’re important. I did it because it was so much easier than dealing with the after effects of what they came up with to do inside.  Coming in after an hour of running around outside, they’d be tired, happy and ready to curl up cozily inside.