Even on warm, sunny days it can be difficult to find time in our busy schedules to get outside and enjoy nature. Winter can be even more challenging: the weather is cold, roads and parks may be full of snow and ice, and it gets dark earlier. These cold, dark days can impact our health, with many people experiencing a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). So how could braving the cold help our health and prevent “winter blues?”
There is a growing body of research that suggests being outside is something that we as humans need. For children, time outside is a valuable part of childhood that promotes healthy development and well-being. Benefits of being outside include lower stress and better sleep. Time in nature has been found to help reduce aggression and anxiety. Both creativity and concentration get a boost with quick walks outside.
Don’t be afraid of the cold air. It is a myth that being outside in cold weather causes illness. While a runny nose is the body’s normal response to cold air, we catch colds from other people, not from cold temperatures. Staying inside more in winter months is actually where the germs spread from re-circulating heated air and close contact with others.
Kids need outdoor play to develop gross motor skills like climbing and jumping. During the winter, kids are still growing and prolonged sessions of inactivity is unhelpful for development. Physical activity from sledding, building snow forts or just walking the snowy sidewalks releases endorphins, warms the body and improves mood. The imagination can explore new frontiers in the snowy winter landscapes. Kids can learn an appreciation for how the seasons change and creatures survive the colder months.
Being outside can also help improve our relationships. Most of us spend 87% of our time in enclosed buildings and 6% more in vehicles which can lead to a feeling of “cabin fever” and isolation. Getting outside into a communal space with others can combat this loneliness felt more acutely in the winter. Consider inviting a friend or neighbor for a walk; pull out the old skis, skates or snowshoes and make new friends along the way.
Going outdoors in winter offers important benefits for our mood and health. Throw on some layers and get outside today.
Sarah Young is part of the A Kidz Clinic team, striving to help youth be physically and mentally strong. She can be reached at 970-874-2753.