Focus on Fitness: Staying Active During the Winter
By Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 25 No. 8 P. 54

Learn how families can overcome the challenges of engaging in physical activity in the colder months.

The weather in early fall is a welcome change for many who don’t like the summer heat. But as the season progresses, cooler weather and darker evenings lead to families and their children spending more time indoors. What’s more, family schedules become more hectic when school is in session, as parents usually work, try to provide balanced meals, and have plenty of other tasks to check off on their to-do list. Mentally exhausted parents may be more likely to allow their children and themselves to engage in excessive screen time, reducing the chances of meeting physical activity guidelines.

Despite these challenges, there are many fun outdoor and indoor activities in which families can participate—and get excited about. This article provides examples of these activities and strategies to help encourage families to prioritize physical activity in the upcoming cooler months.

Physical Activity Guidelines
Umo Callins, MS, RD, CSSD, CPT, owner of Well Rooted Health and Nutrition and 180 Physique in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, says that the benefits of meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines for children and adults are vast. Physical activity is associated with “improved cognition and sleep quality, healthy bones, and improved mood, with studies showing positive impacts on feelings of depression,” Callins says. “A sedentary lifestyle is associated with higher chances of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.”

Unfortunately, according to a 2020 study, only 23% of children and adolescents meet current recommendations.1 “For children and adolescents aged 6 to 17, 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily is recommended,” Callins says. “This should include a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities. Children aged 3 to 5 should engage in various forms of active play throughout the day to enhance growth and development.”

Krista Williams, CPT, a pregnancy and postpartum athleticism coach and founder of The Strong Mom Project in Newtown, Pennsylvania, says that adults are recommended to engage in less activity than children, a minimum of 150 minutes per week. “At a point in time where we work long hours, sit for long periods of time, and spend too much time in front of screens, we must prioritize meeting these minimums for our own health but also for the example we set for our children.”

Outdoor Family Activities
A 2019 study suggests that a combination of physical activity and time spent in nature may have at least six categories of benefits: physical health, mental health and well-being, education and lifelong learning, active citizenship, crime reduction, and reduced antisocial behavior.2 Despite these benefits, however, getting started may be easier said than done for many families. It may be more realistic to set a goal to be active together outside just once per week. Callins emphasizes that eventually, activity “becomes part of a family’s routine, allows for more connection, and contributes to establishing a foundation of what being healthy is all about.” Here are some outdoor activities clients can partake in when the temperature starts to drop:

• Hiking: A family hike doesn’t have to be challenging or take place on a steep trail. Encourage clients to choose local trails and pick a new one once a month. Nature trails are a great way for children to stay entertained by birds, bugs, and wildlife while the whole family enjoys movement together.

• Family playground time: Instead of standing and watching small children play, suggest parents fit in a playground workout if their children are independent. Adults can use steps and monkey bars to strengthen muscles and bones. This can set a great example for children. Williams has built her personal training business for moms around children being present at workouts. And she sees first-hand that kids want to try the exercises they observe, mimicking their moms and cheering them on.

• Field games: Callins suggests clients use outdoor spaces to play tag, frisbee, or hacky sack. She also recommends making outdoor obstacle courses. Soccer is a simple game to play outdoors, or parents can grab a bat, ball, and glove to play with their kids on a local baseball field.

• Family walks and rides: Williams says, “Sometimes thinking more simply makes it easier to engage in activity regularly. You don’t have to enjoy hiking, biking, or running, or commit a lot of time. Take a walk after dinner or follow your child on a scooter or bike.” Evening walks after dinner can help the whole family wind down vs everyone sitting around the TV or by themselves with their tablets. Research also shows that movement after meals aids blood sugar management, which can help prevent diabetes or benefit those who already have the disease.

• Outdoor chores: From a young age, children can help mom and dad wash the car, plant a vegetable garden, or pull weeds. “All movement counts,” Williams says. In fact, studies have shown that when children help with household tasks, they feel a sense of accomplishment and may have greater self-competence and self-efficacy in the long term.3

• Winter sports: While not feasible for everyone, families can go skiing, snowboarding, or tubing. Or if it’s more convenient, they can go ice skating and roller skating at a nearby rink in their neighborhood.

Indoor Family Activities
When the weather isn’t cooperating or a family doesn’t have safe access to outdoor spaces, there are still plenty of ways to get everyone moving indoors. Here are some examples of indoor activities families can consider:

• Family yoga: No one has to be a skilled yogi to enjoy movement that can improve flexibility and mental wellbeing. YouTube Kids has plenty of free kids’ yoga channels, such as “Cosmic Kids Yoga,” which features kid-favorite characters as the class theme.

• Dance parties: Callins suggests a dance party or competition. While mood-boosting music can get family members moving any day, recommend they do so on Fridays to close the week on a high note while benefiting cardiorespiratory health. Rotate who chooses the music or create a monthly family playlist.

• Indoor obstacle course: Williams says, “It doesn’t take much equipment or space to turn a room into an obstacle course. Map out a route with furniture, stairs, and common objects like paper plates, to create a fun challenge for adults and kids.”

• Balloon keepie uppie: Playing this game in the house with a soccer ball isn’t the safest thing to do, but the whole family can get involved with a slower moving balloon and ensure it doesn’t touch the floor or any furniture. The excitement can rise quickly, which can help release endorphins while getting much needed aerobic movement.

• Trampoline parks: Indoor trampoline centers are popping up in more neighborhoods and enable children and adults to jump around to their hearts’ content, benefiting their cardiorespiratory and muscle and bone health. If the children enjoy it, many locations offer memberships and discounts when purchasing multiple passes.

Supporting Clients
Chances are your clients want to be more active while spending quality time with their families. As a mom herself, Callins says, “It’s important to get to know the family and what their needs and wants are. Factor in schedules, preferences, abilities, their budget, and what they have access to before making recommendations. Be creative and help make meeting the physical activity guidelines as appealing as possible.” Callins explains that this personalized and empathetic approach will increase success in accomplishing the activity goals.

Williams adds, “Just like clients can develop harmful ‘food rules,’ they may also develop rules with exercise that might not be the best for their families’ long-term health.” She recommends RDs avoid setting goals related to family members burning a certain number of calories or focusing only on high-intensity activities. “In the same way you coach clients to improve their relationship with food, do the same with exercise.” All movement can be beneficial and worth engaging in and even 10-minute spurts help build habits to support physical and mental health.

— Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, who consults with national sports organizations, and a media and nutrition communications expert. Her private practice works with individuals and groups and offers practical resources to support performance for athletes at every level. She also founded and oversees Student Athlete Nutrition.


1. Friel CP, Duran AT, Shechter A, Diaz KM. U.S. children meeting physical activity, screen time, and sleep guidelines. Am J Prev Med. 2020;59(4):513-521.

2. Eigenschenk B, Thomann A, McClure M, et al. Benefits of outdoor sports for society. A systematic literature review and reflections on evidence. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(6):937.

3. White EM, DeBoer MD, Scharf RJ. Associations between household chores and childhood self-competency. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2019;40(3):176-182.