One Cold Day

Finding Indoor Fitness Options In Less-Than-Perfect Winter Weather

by tj wierenga

Doctors and parents agree: time spent outdoors is good for our health and that of our children. Fresh air, room to move, and the variety of activities that can be done out of doors refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. However, let’s face it. This is Montana. There are days when it is just not the best idea to step out of doors unless one must… whether that situation results from mud, rain, sleet, snow, wind chill factor, or even the dog days of hottest summer.

When you are without children, the thought of keeping active and fit over the wintertime is, theoretically, a good idea. However, it is often a season during which our activities and metabolisms slow down for a nice winter hibernation, much like our Montana bears.

When you do have children, the Montana bear theory comes into play even more deeply, without the hibernation portion. When winter temperatures drop deeply below freezing and families are cooped up without outside relief for days on end, keeping active and fit becomes more of a matter of parental and home survival than of a hypothetical good idea. Parents simply must find a way to keep the small beasties active, giving them an outlet for their exuberance and energy of youth in ways that do not involve cracked craniums and dents in walls from children running wildly, pell-mell through the house. Simply put, alternatives must be found.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity at least 3 times a week for adults, and at least 60 minutes of physical activity, preferably daily, for children. With childhood obesity at all-time highs and health problems such as hypertension and high cholesterol showing up even in young children, finding ways to implement activity and exercise into our lives and those of our children becomes even more imperative.

Focus on building endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. These four cornerstones of physical fitness are key to doing our parts to maintain health and well-being, in ourselves and our families.

Experts recommend keeping an exercise journal and encouraging kids to do the same. This will help track of your physical activity and provide a reminder of goals. One suggestion is to assign one “point” per 15 minutes of at-least-moderate physical activity, with a goal number of points for the week and a treat (preferably not food) such as a cute exercise top, DVD, cap, etc as a reward. Do not make the reward too easy to achieve! For your kids, maybe assign it a dollar value, such as a dollar per year of their age, paid weekly or bi-weekly, with the understanding that they can spend the money on anything they like that does not contain sugar, for example.

Following are some general age guidelines for keeping children and family active and fit throughout the winter months. Keep in mind that winter fitness is primarily the maintenance of existing fitness levels… unless you or the kids are at a gym or taking physically demanding classes of some sort (more on that below), the suggestions we have here are more to encourage movement and activity than to establish overall fitness. Take advantage of nicer days out of doors for heavier activity and exertion!

Toddlers – Young Children

Assign one area in your home as a “romper room” or children’s play area, a “free/active” zone” where not much is breakable, and they can stretch out a bit or have rougher horseplay than the rest of the house. Play with big rubber or foam balls, balloons, trucks and tractors, non-motorized ride-on toys, etc. Many Billings area homes have basements, and even an unfinished basement is a great play area with carpet or tacked-down throw rugs and a few well-chosen activity toys where kids can run about and burn off steam. Tonka trucks and blocks are a popular set of toys for encouraging kids to move, for example.

Invite friends over for play dates more often. Simply having friends or new people over will help you move more (if nothing else, as the parent, to quickly buff up the bathroom and kitchen before they arrive!). Kids will wear themselves out more quickly and effectively if they have a buddy to play with, and, the cat will get a break.

There are lots of games you can play with kids – singing activity songs, dancing to music video/DVD’s, stretching routines, jumping jacks, skipping rope, balloon volleyball, activity-style Simon Says, Duck/Duck/Goose, goofy dancing, Ring Around the Rosie, hide plastic “Easter eggs” for kids to find, jumping games, and more. Playing “hide n’ seek” injects fun and motion into the day with young ones, and can be easily tailored to fit various ages and stages for crawlers, walkers, and growing children.

Push or ride-on toys, rocking/bucking horses, non-motorized tricycles and scooters are all great ways to keep little bodies active, and are available from many sources, from resale shops through discount stores, super centers and even farm and ranch supply stores.

School Age - Tweens

Obviously, limit TV time to a certain number of hours or minutes a day (with the exception of activity & exercise videos). Instead of the TV on in the background, try playing fun music during “activity times” of the day . The music will subconsciously encourage you move more during regular activities.

Bigger kids may enjoy such activities as freeze tag, hula hoops, or a jump rope marathon with prize for the winner. Balloon volleyball is a good workout if you have the space for it. Check out www.GamesKidsPlay.net for more ideas.

Host a talent show or play. This may be a good idea for when friends are over, or for the whole family during inclement weather weekends. Each person prepares a talent to perform – singing, a dance routine, reading a poem or story out loud complete with character voices, telling jokes, doing a magic trick, or drawing a picture to display. Set up a stage somewhere in your house and cheer as each individual performs their talent! Or, write out a simple play based on a favorite book or movie, and have family members and/or friends dress up in costumes and act out various parts.

Household chores – even if it doesn’t “need” it, sweep the floors or vacuum every day, and involve your kids! Pick up toys more often. Have children help fold laundry if they do not already. Even young children can help dust and pick up. The point is just to work more steps into your day. Implement a stretching routine once or twice a day to maintain your flexibility.

Teenagers thru Adults

Much has been made of the Wii Fit video exercise games lately. Wise parents will Google “Wii Fitness” and see what the myriad of independent studies and research has been saying about it – mainly, that while use of the Wii programs does require more physical exertion than traditional video games, their effectiveness lies more in their encouragement for participants to do anything versus passive gaming. Researchers have found that at most, Wii games can burn up less than half of the amount of calories per hour the same activity or exercise burns when performed in a more traditional manner. “Virtual gaming is no replacement for real exercise,” said Colleen Greene, M.A., wellness coordinator for MFit, the health promotion division of the University of Michigan Health System. “It’s a place to start, though. Kids can have fun doing it; they can feel a little better about actually trying the sport or activity.” Research indicates that while Wii is a fun, active video game, it falls short of actually replacing standard physical activity. Consider it as a fun alternative to traditional video games but not a realistic replacement for all physical exertion.

Elliptical machines, stationary bikes, and both incline and flat treadmills are tried-and-true methods of indoor fitness maintenance. Of course, young children should not attempt to use adult-sized equipment due to safety concerns.

The Yellowstone valley area is home to many gyms and fitness centers, most of which offer a continually fresh series of winter programs – anything from cycling classes to martial arts, weight training, dance, and more. Many of these businesses also employ Personal Trainers so you can have an exercise program tailored for your entire family.

If you are not a member of a fitness center and prefer to exercise at home, DVD’s are available to rent from the library or through Netflix, or for sale to buy in local stores. There are programs and skill levels to fit anyone, of any age with any interest.

Another option is to make a “circuit” pathway through your house and walk it for 30 minutes straight, listening to music and wearing your walking/running shoes. Involve stairs if you have them, and don’t forget to stretch before and after the activity to obtain the most benefit possible. Wear a pedometer every day, even children… it may be very interesting to track just how many steps a day you do take!

Cabin Fever?

Load up in the car and go!

· Centennial Arena Ice Rink offers hockey, figure skating and ice skating lessons and programs.

· Skate World Roller Skating Rink in Billings and Starlite Roller Rink in Laurel have roller skating programs for individuals and families. Consider a weekly “skate date” for your children and a close friend or two.

· Many athletic clubs in town offer indoor swimming, basketball, racquetball, climbing walls and more for families. Check out websites for local clubs to find out more about opportunities, including group classes and personal trainer information.

· Go for a brisk walk at one of the indoor malls. Both Rimrock Mall and West Park Plaza have children’s activity areas; the brand new Imaginarium Children’s Play Area at Rimrock Mall, with 1200 feet of Montana-themed fixtures for children to climb on, under and around, is an option for inclement weather days. The space includes a family restroom, nursing room, stroller parking and family picnic area, and is open during regular mall hours.

· Have children try out for community theatre parts, or take weekly classes such as music appreciation, dance, musical instrument, or martial arts.

· Check out local indoor swimming opportunities.

· For options just to get out of the house a bit with moderate walking, try a visit to the library, book or toy store, hardware store, craft store, even the grocery store or a super center on weekdays when shoppers are scarce. If you give yourself a limit of $5 (or make it a “notes taken only – no shopping permitted!”) trip, the ability to just get out of the house and get moving, let alone the rush to and from the car, will keep the blood flowing and tempers soothed.

With some creativity and a sense of determination and fun, smart parents can keep themselves and their children entertained, active, and in shape until the arrival of Spring. Good luck!

TJ Wierenga is a married mom of two under three, enjoys working with horses and needlework, reads voraciously, and frantically searches for exercise alternatives for the family when winter in Montana prevents long stroller walks, biking, and mountain hiking. TJ_Wierenga@Live.Com