As parents, we have to make sure we move throughout this winter and the pandemic. The mental health benefits of exercise – improved mood, reduced stress and anxiety, less depression – are only matched by the physical health benefits of exercise. Exercise helps us fight flu and cold season, strengthens our immune systems, improves sleep and can both prevent and treat chronic conditions like diabetes, heart conditions and many types of cancer. It is also antidepressant.
Parents have to lead by example, and look to exercise as the fundamental way to keep your family physically and mentally healthy through COVID-19.
We reached out to health and wellness expert Erin Phelan, the owner of the Healthy Six, a Toronto-based health and wellness coaching community with virtual fitness classes, a 21-day “life reboot” program and a focus on balanced lives through movement and healthy lifestyle choices. Erin provided great tips to keep healthy this winter.
People often associate summer with being outdoors and active, and winter with hibernating and staying inside. How important is it to keep active during the winter?
Activity should be seasonal – meaning we have to adapt with the changing seasons. We have to move every day of our lives. Newton’s theory applies to all – a body in motion stays in motion. The benefits of activity are overwhelming: improved physical and mental health, focus and happiness. Exercise releases endorphins into the brain which chemically shift your thinking from negative to positive.
Time outdoors is linked with improved motor skills, lower obesity rates, and promotes curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills. Kids who spend time in nature often do better in school.
Only five percent of Canadian kids get the recommended daily dose of exercise – and the pandemic has increased sedentary behaviour in kids and parents. We are seeing worrying trends across the country – and winter hibernation could make matters worse.
You have to find both inside and outside activities that your family will love. Of course, it is wonderful going for a walk in fall leaves, but it is just as nice to get bundled up and go for a winter walk. Wear layers, cover your extremities (hats, gloves or mittens and warm footwear) and double up with leg warmers and snow pants, especially if playing sports.
The benefits of 150 minutes of activity for both physical and mental health are astounding. Your mental health can improve in as little at ten minutes and there is abundant research that supports the benefits of Vitamin D from exercising in nature.
There is nothing wrong with hibernating a little this winter – but it is lovely coming into a warm meal or a hot chocolate after some great activity outside!
If schools close again, what are some ways to keep children active safely (whether outdoors or at home)?
The recommended daily activity level is an hour each day for kids. Remember what our parents used to do? Bundle us up into snow gear and throw us outside. If you don’t have a backyard, make time to go to a park this winter or discover the many nature trails Canada has to offer.
Winter sports are wonderful for children– they can climb hills and sled down them (cardboard can serve as makeshift sleds too, remember) and 2021 is the perfect year for a snowman challenge! Why not try to build a snow igloo? You can also play “tag” and lob each other with snowballs. If bad weather hits that forces you inside, think about activity games. You can use dice for a family boot camp – choose six exercises (squats, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, high knees, planks) and then roll the dice for time or reps. For example, if you roll a one do the exercise for one 1 minute, if you roll a two you must perform 20 reps, 3=30 seconds, etc. You Tube is full of videos with ideas.
What are some outdoor activities that we can do safely with other families while we’re still social distancing?
Walking should be everyone’s pandemic past time and is the most underrated activity. We can all go for a walk, and this is true of taking our seniors and grandparents out with us, too! You can gather outside safely, masked, and find a wonderful trail or new neighbourhood to explore. If you live in a city like Toronto, find a spot you haven’t been before, set an pedometer or distance app like Nike Plus and go for a 5k walk. Think about road trips to small towns you want to discover and walk those city streets. Get your kids to explore using a compass or traditional maps (instead of looking down at their phone or Waze). Organize scavenger hunts – find the number 17, find a house with a red door, find a post office, find a maple tree.
Don’t forget Canada’s favourite sport – hockey. Canada is the land of rinks, so if your family hasn’t taken up skating look for skates and give it a try. Skating is a great cardio activity for all ages.
Finally, whatever activity or sport you engage in this winter, dress for the weather and you are guaranteed to enjoy it – not to mention the physical and mental health benefits that activity in nature will bring you.
Make memories, and have fun!
Erin Phelan, MA, is an award-winning fitness trainer and freelance writer. She is a health coach and media and PR consultant in health and wellness. Erin and her family live in Toronto. Erin’s classes and writing can be found at www.erinphelan.com.