Hey parents, although it’s midwinter, pry your kids away from their TVs, electronic games and computers. Even the very young ones. Dress them for the cold and push them out the door. Literally, if need be. Ignore their yelling and sarcasm. If they threaten to report you to child welfare, tell them that being active in the cold is just what the doctor ordered to keep them healthy and happy. Kids need at least one hour of exercise daily (just “running around” counts) as soon as they’re old enough to do so. Kids get too little exercise in cold months, partly because indoor exercise is less strenuous.
Here what you should know:
1. Indoor air can make kids sick. In winter, kids stay indoors a lot, often with friends over. Or they’re crowded into daycare centers and such, windows shut, heat turned up. Kids cough up and sneeze out disease-causing germs. Dry air indoors lowers humidity, allowing airborne germs to stay viable longer and travel further. Also, low humidity dries out nasal membranes; membranes need moisture to ward off germs. Meanwhile, air outdoors is relatively germ-free.
2. Indoor air is often polluted. Energy-efficient homes keep cold air out and let no fresh air in, allowing unhealthy buildups of vapors from heating units, household cleaning materials and other sources. Concurrently, outdoor air quality is improving, due to the use of better fuels for heating houses and for running cars and trucks.
3. Overdressing kids for the cold is counterproductive. Modern fabrics are so efficient in retaining heat and repelling rain/snow that perspiration can be a problem. Modern clothing allows kids to stay out longer. Wearing wet clothing, whether wet from perspiration or the elements, is like standing naked in the cold. As kids perspire, remove layers of clothing, open zippers, take off hats, and unbutton jackets.
4. Exposure to cold does not increase susceptibility to illnesses. Only extreme and prolonged exposure to both cold and wetness causes body temperature to tumble and leads to serious cold-related health issues. This does not happen to toddlers frolicking in the snow or older kids skiing, sledding or ice skating.
5. The colder the weather, the more active kids are and the more calories they need. Calories provide energy to maintain body temperature, warm cold air being inhaled, and fuel muscles. Even moderate activities require about twice the calories needed for sitting and watching TV. Frequent eating helps maintain steady heat production. “Trail food” (mixtures of raisins, dried fruits, chocolate and nuts) supplies the necessary calories. And kids like it. Bribery can help get them outside.
6. Cold weather increases the need for fluids.The body loses fluids through deeper breathing, perspiring under clothing, and exertion. Remind kids to drink even when they are not thirsty. Water and juices suffice. These are quickly absorbed. The benefits of hot drinks, if any, in keeping kids (and adults) warm are mostly psychological. “Sports drinks” are helpful only for older children participating in competitive sports.
7. The sun helps boost vitamin D levels.Vitamin D is especially important for building and maintaining strong bones. An important source is the action of the sun on the skin. However, many children living in cold climates spend limited time outdoors in winter, and when they do go outdoors, they’re covered with clothing, with little skin exposed. This results in less than optimal levels of vitamin D in their blood. Check with your pediatrician to determine if your children require oral supplements.
8. Winter sunlight helps minimize being sad and having SAD. Sad (small letters) is having the “winter blues” or “cabin fever.” SAD (capital letters) stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious form of the winter blues. This condition is brought on by too little exposure to light. In children, SAD causes listlessness, concentration issues, irritability, crying and increased difficulty getting up in the morning. In the Northern hemisphere, the farther north you live, the higher the incidence of SAD. Exposure to sunlight or specific artificial light is the antidote.
9. Sick children can play outdoors. Exposure to cold does not cause, worsen or prolong illnesses (see #4 above). However, if ill children prefer to rest indoors, obviously, let them. Note that children’s noses often start running when they are outdoors in cold weather. This is due to the cold air, and is not necessarily a sign of illness. Ignore old wives’ tales that illness is caused by wet hair, drafts, and overheating.
10. Wearing sunglasses when snow covers the ground is as important as wearing them on a sunny day at the beach. Snow reflects almost 80% of the sun’s rays, far more than water or sand. Reflected rays are additive to direct rays in causing damage. Many winter activities take place in snow-covered hilly terrain, allowing reflected rays to penetrate eyes from different angles. (See http://kidstraveldoc.com/kids-winter-sunglasses/