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Staying Home Instead

Staying Active in Winter Months

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 1, January-February 2004, pp. 22

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I live in the Northern hemisphere, and I'm dreading the approaching winter. I've been doing a good job getting exercise with my baby by walking around when the weather's nice, but I don't know how we're going to stay active when it's so cold and snowy that we just want to huddle indoors. How have other mothers kept up exercise during the winter months?

Response

It can be difficult to keep up with an exercise plan when the weather turns cold and it gets dark so early. One thing you might try is working out with a video. Most libraries have a huge collection to check out for free. This is a good way to try several different types of workouts such as yoga, kick boxing, and Pilates. When you find a workout style that you really like and works for you, it might be worth spending the money and buying some videos. Or, to keep your workout fresh, just pick a new video workout every week from the library. Another plus of a video workout is that you get to pick the time and can stop when you want or need to.

Many communities have YMCAs or recreation centers that offer a variety of exercise classes for a reasonable fee. Do you have a friend that you could swap child care with? You could work out right after each other on the same day or on different days.

Since you mentioned that you are currently walking, you might also consider purchasing a treadmill to use when you can't get outside due to weather. You could fit a 30-minute walk in before your baby wakes up in the morning or during nap time. And, depending on the age of your baby, she may be quite happy if you turn on some music and give her some toys to play with while you work out. One safety note with babies and treadmills: a curious child can get a finger or other body part caught in the machine. If you do work out with children nearby, make sure that they are unable to come in contact with the machine.

Andrea Weir
Derby KS USA

Response

I applaud you for taking care of yourself and setting a good example for your child. The most important thing I do for my children is meet their needs. One way I do this is by staying healthy. I find that exercise improves my mood and helps me avoid slumps of depression, especially in the winter. While the children are asleep, I have been known to fence myself into an area that is within hearing distance and that has a television and VCR. I have a good quality workout video that includes step aerobics and weight training and I work out until the children are in need of my attention.

I've also blocked in an exercise machine behind my couch so I can keep my children from getting hurt as I work out and they play, dance, or view educational shows. Sometimes, I go to the library to get some CDs with children's music so we can dance together. When my daughter was younger, I put her in a sling. As she got older, I let her move on her own two feet, which greatly improved her gross motor skills and sense of rhythm.

I was grateful to learn that exercise can be divided up into several increments during a single day, and does not have to be done all at once to have healthful benefits. For example, 30 minutes of exercise can be completed 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening. This means that I can be flexible and meet my child's needs without feeling as if I am missing out on the benefits of the time I have invested in my exercise. The work still counts.

Sandy Aldrich
Timken KS USA

Response

I have a few things that have worked for us in the winter months here in snowy, cold Ohio! For the past few years, we have had a family membership to a local zoo. Purchasing a pass for a zoo that is a member of the American Zoological Association entitles the pass-holder to free admission to any included zoo-which, we have discovered, is most zoos in the United States. On the weekends, we travel to zoos that have indoor exhibits where we can walk around all day and enjoy the animals. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has a rainforest building and a primates, cats, and aquatics building. The Columbus Zoo has a wonderful indoor aquatics exhibit. We plan ahead and borrow books from the library about animals and habitats that we will see and read them the week prior to going, which gets everyone excited about the trip as well as enriching the educational aspect. Zoo Web sites will tell you special animals they house, which can give ideas for what books to search for at the library. We make a day of it, walking around the zoo, then going out to lunch or dinner. It's a lot of fun and keeps everyone up and moving!

We've also became members of our local recreation center, which allows us access to an indoor swimming pool. Our children love the idea of swimming in the winter, and a few hours at the pool is great exercise for all of us! Additionally, our children have an opportunity to practice their swimming lesson skills and improve their comfort level with being in the water.

Krissi Gayle
Medina OH USA

Response

When winter hits here in Maine, we have found a variety of ways to keep active during the many months of snow and cold. We strap on our snowshoes or cross-country skis and hit the trails! Littlest ones can be carried in a sling or pulled behind on a sled. Although we have a small home, we have found that indoor exercise doesn't take up much space. We put on lively music and dance together. We put on yoga videos and follow along as a family. (More dedicated exercisers may choose to get up early to have a solo peaceful yoga time!) Some friends of ours have joined a square-dance group that welcomes children.

Having a regular time for these activities may help ensure that exercise happens daily, while a variety of activities helps keep everyone interested. Keeping in mind all family members' abilities and interests makes it all the more enjoyable. Frequent breaks for resting, snacks, water, and cuddling are, of course, included in the package. Have fun!

Virginia Bobro
Casco ME USA

Response

Exercise is an important part of my life because it helps me maintain my weight and good health, and relieves the daily stress of raising three young children. Winter can make finding the opportunity to exercise challenging, but with a little creativity and a lot of flexibility I have been able to maintain my fitness year-round.

Several things have worked to keep me going in the dead of winter. First, even if it's cold, I still try to exercise outside at least a couple of times a week. I bundle up my children in layers and extra blankets to go for a run at my favorite paved trail. As long as it's not too cold or snowy, we all really enjoy the 45 minutes spent outdoors. Second, I often get up extra early to exercise before my children awaken. Now, this means losing out on some early-morning sleep under the cozy covers, but nothing can compare with the peace and quiet of my pre-dawn workout. Boredom with the same old exercise tapes can be a real obstacle to wintertime fitness. To keep things interesting, I indulge myself by purchasing a few new aerobics videos each winter. The new challenges of different routines really motivate me. Finally, I enlist my husband to entertain our children so that I can have a workout all to myself at least once a weekend. I, of course, am happy to return the favor for him!

Just as I would never think to stop eating or breathing in the winter, I do not consider fitness in the cold months to be optional. With the lack of sunlight, the cold, and all of the holiday parties, exercise is even more crucial to my health and well-being in the winter. Best of luck to you with your workouts!

Jill Landis
Cincinnati OH USA

Response

Your question caught my eye because it brought back many happy memories of the years when I had four children under 10 years of age. In the coastal plain of Israel, where I live, temperatures are moderate and the skies often sunny. So the easiest and cheapest option of exercising with young children-putting the youngest in a sling and going out for a walk-is very feasible. In fact, a winter walk is more pleasant than a walk in the very hot summer weather. However, one of my favorite forms of exercise with or without young children may be applicable also to those in colder climes for those who have access to an indoor pool.

From the age of about six to 24 months, all my children swam with me. I swam breaststroke, they held on to my shoulders with their hands, and very soon imitated my kicking with their feet. They loved it, and by two years of age, each was swimming independently quite competently, just from familiarity with the water and my example. Typically, independent swimming started around 18 months-they'd just jump off and paddle as we approached the edge, gradually increasing the distances. My husband enjoys swimming also, and at least some of the time we'd go to the pool as a family and switch off swimming with or watching the youngest ones. Other times, I'd swim with the baby while some of the older children were at swim team practice at the same pool and the next youngest visiting a friend. I've swum with my babies in Israel, in Switzerland, and in the USA. Not all pools are equally comfortable with a swimming pair, but going at off-hours and getting friendly with the attendants usually smoothed over any problems.

Edie Boxman
Israel

Response

I think it might be worthwhile to change your perspective on "exercise" as something you set time aside to do. During the New York city winters our family experienced when our first son, Jaxson, was born, we began a family dance tradition. We let our son choose the music and then we dance our hearts out. We tape crepe paper streamers to chopsticks and the show begins! I do a lot of bouncing in place, box stepping, and marching, which really burn calories. The children inevitably want to keep going long after I'm finished

If you make a conscious plan to do this every day, you can also isolate certain muscle groups like upper arms or thighs and work in dance moves that target those areas. Good luck and keep on moving!

Grace Attanasio Shickler
Roswell GA USA

Response

Those bitter temperatures can easily become another excuse to keep me from getting the exercise I know I need. Perhaps one solution I found might work for you, too.

Since my oldest son started school, I've been walking him there and back every day, with my four-month-old in the baby sling and my two other children in a double jogging stroller. The sling and the proximity to my body help to keep the baby warm, and I ensure that the others bundle up with fun hats and gloves that they are excited to wear. The extra weight I carry and push add to the workout. By having the younger children in a sling and stroller rather than on foot, I can set a good pace.

Andrea Kelly
Brookeville MD USA

Response

I can relate to the challenge of exercising during the winter months, especially when the weather gets bad. I personally get up about 30 minutes to an hour before the family wakes up. I pop in an aerobics video and exercise. If my toddler wakes up while I am exercising, I let her join in. It's good for her and as long as I am still moving, I am exercising. At times, my husband watches the children long enough for me to exercise alone. He says he likes my attitude better when I exercise regularly. I am more emotionally balanced and more energized.

I also get creative and exercise while playing with the children by doing push-up hellos, peek-a-boo sit ups, and chest-press airplanes. It is a good time for all of us because we feel healthy as we exercise and happy just to be together.

Lora Bean
Portland TX USA

Response

It is not easy in the winter to keep up with exercise. Since I homeschool, going out to a gym during the day is not an option. Trying to go to one at night is nearly impossible because my children are involved in numerous afternoon and evening activities.

I walk at the mall before the stores open. We enjoy the freedom of the open space. When that's not possible, I walk in my house. I have a route through the house that includes the stairs. I play music or turn on a favorite radio program. I have worked up quite a sweat just walking in the house! Often, my toddler joins in. She thinks it's fun following me around and even funnier when I try to catch her!

It feels great to get moving, even if it is in my own house. By exercising, I am setting a good example for my daughter, who often asks if we can walk in the house.

Margaret Pezzella
Lincolnshire IL USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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