How much exercise do children need in winter? 10 ways to boost their fitness
My three kids love playing outside, but they’re not so keen in winter – especially when the ground is getting a soaking or it’s bitterly cold. On those days, getting them to stretch their legs outdoors can feel like an awful lot of hard work.
First, you have to persuade them away from the puzzles/ sticker books/ TV. Then you must corral them into coats, socks and boots, before appeasing tantrums over hats and gloves. Finally, I have to break up fights over who’s going to open the front door first. By the time, we’re ready to go, my nerves are so jangly that I feel ready for a strong cuppa and a sit-down. And we haven’t even made it past the gate.
So how much exercise do children really need in winter?
Children aged between five and 18 years need 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day on most days, according to UK government recommendations – and yes, this is all year round. (Under the age of five, children should be moving almost continuously.)
‘Those 60 minutes of exercise can be accumulated in 10 minute bursts,’ says Dr Gavin Sandercock, a reader in sport and exercise, and an expert on childhood activity.
‘Unfortunately research shows that only 10 per cent of kids meet the government recommendations.’
I’m ashamed. I don’t think my kids always meet this target in winter, particularly when the weather is grim.
I asked the experts for help on how to fit more exercise into my children’s lives:
Remember the basics
To meet requirements, those 60 minutes should be mainly cardiovascular exercise – with children becoming out of breath and red in the face. Three times a week, they also need muscle and bone strengthening moves. It means that unfortunately that gentle stroll to the shops – while still good for your child – doesn’t count.Here are the best aerobic, muscle or bone strengthening activities for kids’ health (and check out the wintry indoor options too):
– running, for example badminton, five-a-side indoor football, stuck-in-the-mud, dodgeball
– active playground or sports hall games, like hopscotch and skipping
– martial arts
– swinging on the climbing frame/ parallel bars
– swimming. ‘It doesn’t matter if your child can’t swim very well,’ says Dr Sandercock. ‘Just getting in and out of the pool loads the bones and gets them out of puff.’
Build activity into your daily life
‘Kids should be walking, running and scooting to get around,’ says Dr Sandercock. ‘Use bikes as transport if possible. If you live too far away from school to walk, cycle or scoot the whole journey, aim to walk or scoot the last half a mile.’
Invest in the right kit for the great outdoors.
‘Once your kids are kitted out in layers and waterproof clothes, they will stay warm and dry, and won’t mind playing outside in the sleet, snow and rain,’ says Dr Donald Macgregor, consultant paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Play indoor games
If you’re stuck indoors, pat a balloon around the room – it can burn lots of calories. Also build miniature assault courses and try standing-on-one-leg competitions. Lie down and let little ones clamber over you for exercise.
Be an enthusiastic role model
Research shows that if one parent is active, a child is more likely to be fit too. ‘But parents don’t just need to be seen to exercise often – they need to show they enjoy it too,’ says Dr Sandercock. ‘So don’t complain about having to go to the gym.’If, like me, you’re not revelling in running as much this winter, don’t give up: Lost your running mojo? Try these 10 winter running tips.
Let kids show off their PE skills
Children need practise to develop physical skills, like ball-throwing and catching. Give them the chance to demonstrate what they have been taught at school or nursery.
Restrict screen time
Research shows that the more screen time your child has, the more likely they are to be overweight. So limit the amount of time kids can spend watching TV, and playing on computers and tablets.
Get off the bus a few stops earlier
And turn that longer walk into a game. ‘For example, tell your kids that you’re going to get off the bus to run to the next stop, counting red cars as you go,’ says Dr Sandercock.
Exercise earlier in the day at weekends.
Get your kids in the habit of going out for a run-around, bike ride or to the playground in the mornings. ‘Morning exercise gets everyone’s “engines” going and pushes up metabolic rate for the rest of the day,’ says Dr Macgregor. ‘It also increases blood flow to your kids’ brains, boosting their mental performance.
Shake up family winter walks
If everyone groans when you suggest going out for a walk, offer a vigorous game of tig or a treasure hunt en route. ‘If they like climbing trees, hide some of the treasure within the branches for extra cardio activity,’ says Dr Macgregor. ‘Hare and hound is another game which gets kids’ hearts pumping on winter walks or bike rides. One parent pretends to be the hare and runs off, and the children have to make chase. It’s a great way to get kids running or cycling at speed.’ Good luck!
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