how staying active in the cold can boost your childs health

Child Health | 2 months ago

Keeping it Cool: How Staying Active in the Cold Can Boost Your Child's Health

Dr. Hebah Pranckun at Atrium Health Levine Children's Stanly Pediatrics shares how cooler temperatures can benefit children's health, development and well-being. See how you can help your child reimagine outdoor play when the temperature drops, plus get some indoor activity inspiration for those extra chilly days.

Winter brings shorter days and colder temperatures – limiting outdoor activity options for children and reducing the amount of time they spend outside. The colder weather often tempts us to stay cozy inside, but Dr. Hebah Pranckun at Atrium Health Levine Children's Stanly Pediatrics says keeping kids' heart rates up and participating in one hour or more of physical activity per day. 

Strengthens Immune Systems

Unfortunately, it's impossible to keep children away from all viruses or bacteria that can make them ill, especially during the winter months when illness seems to be more prevalent. However, according to the CDC, allowing children to come in contact with some of these bacteria in a natural way can make them less likely to develop autoimmune disorders and allergies.

“Studies have shown spending time in nature not only helps stimulate creativity and adventure but decreases the bodies’ stress and anxiety level, which can also lead to a healthier immune system,” Pranckun says.A stronger immune system leads to less infection and potentially less antibiotic use.”

Boosts Vitamin D Levels

When we stay indoors during the winter, we are missing out on necessary vitamins, like Vitamin D, that the outdoor environment gives us. Pranckun explains that Vitamin D is beneficial because it promotes changes in mood, energy levels, and memory by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, essential to children's health and well-being. 

“There are also many studies developing that suggest that our gut and immune system are strongly correlated,” Pranckun says. “By getting more Vitamin D in the winter, we can strengthen our good gut bacteria and be more resistant to infection and inflammation during a time where we see much more exposure to indoor germs.”

Pranckun says in the spring, summer and early fall, 15-30 minutes outside with hands and face exposed typically gives a child the appropriate dose of Vitamin D needed per day. But because sun exposure can dramatically decrease in the winter, it is important to talk to your pediatrician about the best ways to make sure your child is getting enough Vitamin D.

Encourages Physical Activity and Enhances Creativity

Pranckun says encouraging kids to play outside in the winter not only provides a chance for kids to exercise their large muscle groups and get their blood pumping. It also gives them a healthy change of routine that not only stimulates the imagination but engages creativity and critical thinking.

“Playing outside gives children the opportunity to engage in imaginative play, fosters exploration, and gives them access to play with and use new materials, therefore, strengthening and expanding creativity,” Pranckun says.

Pranckun adds that being outside in colder weather can help build a child’s brain function by posing new challenges.“Brain function is enhanced through the new challenges a child encounters, which will result in new problem-solving skills, promotion of cognitive thinking, and an overall improvement in executive function skills such as multitasking, planning and prioritizing,” Pranckun says.

When to Find Indoor Alternatives 

Although playing outside in cold weather can be a safe and enjoyable experience, Pranckun says it's important to be able to note signs of potential injury.

“Children will show us signs when it is too cold to play outside,” Pranckun says. “Watch for shivering or chattering teeth. Dizziness, tingling of the fingers, or color change of the skin to pink, red or blue are serious signs that must be recognized immediately to avoid dangerous conditions such as frostbite or hypothermia.”

If outdoor activities are not an option due to weather, Pranckun suggests engaging in indoor physical activities such as making forts, setting up a scavenger hunt, having an impromptu dance party, experimenting with different sensory bins or playing board games.

“Any activities that get the heart beating faster, stimulate creativity, or encourage independent thinking are great substitutes providing a safe, fun-filled environment as an alternative to the cold weather,” Pranckun says.

For more ways to help your child thrive, find an Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician near you.