Even though spring is just around the corner, the weather outside can still be frightful. Children are stir-crazy. Comfort-food binges have taken their toll around your tummy, and going for a quick jog seems so much harder when it's already dark at suppertime. But there's no better time for a workout.
"Exercise is even more important during the winter," says Dr. Rebecca Jaffe, a family physician in Wilmington, Delaware, and mother of two. "Exercise increases endorphins and makes you feel good, and that helps battle the winter blues. You'll also sleep better and be healthier."
To reap such benefits, Jaffe says you should exercise 30 minutes to an hour every day of the week -- yes, even in winter. Here, Jaffe and other moms who stay active in winter share ways you and your children can sneak in fitness while having some frosty fun.
Five days a week, Kristin Carpenter, a public relations company owner, pushes her 20-month-old son in his heavy-duty stroller up Durango, Colorado, hills with her malamute along for the run. Like a postal worker, she braves snow, sleet, and rain, while her son is in the well-protected stroller. "Running with the stroller gave me my freedom back," Kristin says. "It's an awesome workout -- an even better workout than running alone because I have to push the stroller and my son, who weighs 28 pounds."
Playtime outdoors shouldn't mean you sit shivering on the sidelines. Outdoor games with your children can keep you active and toasty warm. "I do a scavenger hunt or set up obstacle courses with six or eight different stations the kids help create," says Rebecca Jaffe. "We have activities such as jumping over fallen twigs, making snow angels, or tumbling. We'll race and see who can do the stations faster. For a better workout, I'll incorporate hills."
On winter weekends, Delilah Milne, a mother of two in Wynndel, British Columbia, Canada, and CEO of Victorian cottagetreasures.com, snowshoes about two miles with her children to a cabin, where they rest and fill up with hot chocolate before heading back. To get the most from this exercise, she does the hard work of blazing the path for her children to follow.
"Snowshoeing is easy to get into," Delilah says. "There are not a lot of skills children need to walk on snowshoes. If they can walk without teetering, they can snowshoe with you."
Delilah's family also fills their almost six months of winter by building igloos together. It's a family assembly line: Her husband shovels and packs the snow in an Eskimold container; one of her children then carries it to the building spot. Delilah positions the blocks, and her other child smoothes them with a plastic sculpting knife and fills gaps.
"We're doing a lot of work and moving all the time," Delilah says. "We've all got our coats off in no time. We're lifting the blocks, walking farther and farther out to get more snow."
Activities your child can share with you, such as skiing or ice skating, help set a healthy example, says Rebecca. Children can learn to skate with V-blade skates and ice walkers. For mom, skating and skiing provide excellent workouts, burning more than 900 calories in an hour. Another plus: At this time of year, all the equipment is on sale, yet there's still plenty of time to get out and use it.
"Last winter, we got good deals on cross-country skis for everybody," Rebecca says. "We went skiing all through February."
Malls, community centers, and some school gyms provide a sheltered place to walk for those times when you're tired of the cold. Chances are that there's a nearby mall-walking club for moms. Many gyms offer childcare or classes for kids while you hit the treadmill. Some have programs for the whole family. For example, the YMCA in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has a six-week family wall-climbing class, and another YMCA in Chicago offers a Family Fitness Boot Camp.
"I take my daughter into the studio with me, and she'll even take some of the classes," fitness trainer Carrie Jacobsen says. "Usually when the temperature really dips, I'll move my classes into the gym, where the young children can play on mats while the moms work out."
The great thing is, once you get accustomed to working out in winter, you often find that spring comes all too soon.
Stroller. With large, knobby tires and three inches of suspension, the BOB Sport Utility Stroller, $295, makes snow-covered sidewalks a breeze. To keep your children warm on brisk days, add the Warm Fuzzy liner, $35, and Weather Shield, $35. Go to www.bobtrailers.com or call 800-893-2447.
Igloo Building Kit. Just like cake sliding out of a pan, the snow pops out of the Eskimold, $15, in a perfect block every time. Comes with easy-to-follow instructions for building igloos and snow forts, and includes a snow-shaping knife. Order at www.eskimold.com or call Tundra North Manufacturing, Ltd. at 800-900-8015.
Toboggan. You'll feel like you're on the cover of a vintage holiday card when you fly down a hill on the L.L. Bean Classic Toboggan, $99. Go with the padded model to smooth the bumps. Order online at www.llbean.com or call 800-809-7057.
Snowshoes. Little Bear Snowshoes, $39 to $84, come in a range of sizes to fit everyone in the family. "Cubs" have a secure binding that makes strolling in snow easy for children up to 50 pounds. The "Grizzly" model is for children up to 120 pounds, and the "Sagauche" is for adults. Go to www.littlebearsnowshoes.com or call toll-free 866-361-9306.
There is a saying, usually attributed to the Swedes, which goes, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only people badly dressed for the weather." Because kids often don't complain about the cold until their lips are blue, it's important to make sure that they're properly outfitted before you all head out. Some things to keep in mind:
Mittens. To keep snow from getting to little fingers, buy mittens with a long cuff that comes up at least three or four inches past the wrist. Take along an extra pair if you'll be out longer than an hour; the first pair will likely get wet while your child is making snowballs or snow angels.
Boots. Winter-warrior moms say that waterproof boots are the most important clothing item for children heading outside. Before buying, check to make sure there is a good layer of insulation inside, not just a plastic shell.
Hats. Look for wool or acrylic knit hats with a tight, thick weave. They repel water better than loose weaves. Hats should also be long enough to be pulled completely over the ears.
Instant warmth. Take along a pocketful of hard candies or a thermos of hot chocolate. When kids are cold or tired, this little boost will get them home if they're running out of energy.
Break time. You don't have to get all your outdoor exercise at once on very cold days. Instead, go out for 5 or 10 minutes then go back inside for a hot chocolate break. When warm, head back out a couple more times until you've totaled a 30- to 60-minute workout.
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, March 2004.