By Dr. Julie Cheek
For many of us in Whatcom County, winter means trips to the snow to ski, snowboard, snowshoe or throw snowballs. Winter sports are one of the things that make our region special. But the short, wet winter days of the Pacific Northwest can seem better suited to curling up under a blanket with a good book than getting out in the cold. Staying active in the winter months can sometimes be a challenge.
There are many ways, however, to get the exercise physicians recommend for you and your kids. As a pediatrician, I follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and advise my patients that children ages six and older get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Only about one-third of children reach this threshold. Meanwhile, kids spend an average of seven hours per day with electronic devices or watching TV.
The result of inadequate exercise combined with a poor diet is approximately one in three children in the U.S. is either overweight or obese. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, overweight teens have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
The key to keeping kids active is to make exercise fun. Active play and spreading physical activity throughout the day are the most effective ways to establish healthy habits. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of activity several times a day may make exercise easier to do. Just by limiting screen time, your child will naturally be more likely to get moving.
Whatcom County has the advantage of having a wealth of community programs and facilities where kids can be active. Low-cost options include ice-skating at the Bellingham Sportsplex, roller-skating at Lynden Skateway and swimming at the Arne Hanne Aquatic Center, in addition to the wide variety of activities available through Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2. Check out your local park department and the Whatcom Family YMCA for other indoor winter recreational opportunities.
But you don’t need to participate in organized recreation to keep your kids active. A jump rope is a great way to get kids moving. Or turn on some music and dance! Play hopscotch or read a story with a bit of action and ask them to act out the scenes. Anything that gets their heart rates up and involves jumping, balancing, hopping, stretching, resistance or running works. You can model healthy habits as well by going out as a family for an evening walk or playing catch together at a park.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you provide a safe environment for your children’s play. They should dress for the occasion, with clothing suited to the activity. And remind your kids that exercise should never hurt. If it hurts, they might want to slow down or choose another activity. Finally, when starting any exercise program, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your health care provider before getting started.
Most importantly, have fun!
Dr. Julie Cheek manages the pediatric program at Unity Care Northwest’s clinic in Bellingham.