We all have been spoiled by the mild winters of the past couple of years, but it appears that this year, it’s back to the freezing weather we usually expect in Cleveland. 

One of the biggest challenges we face this time of year is staying active despite the extreme temperatures. Most children are good at finding fun summertime activities, such as running, biking, swimming or informally playing outside. 

However, most of them become much less active and stay inside during the winter. It’s just as important to stay active during the winter as it is during the summer, not just for the exercise but to help build kids’ imaginations and social skills as they play with other kids. Also, being in the fresh air is much kinder to their immune systems as they escape the indoor germs that are generously being shared during this season. By taking the appropriate steps to stay warm and safe, winter can become a fun time of snow-filled activities for the whole family.

It is important to dress appropriately for winter weather, to avoid the consequences of cold exposure, such as hypothermia or frostbite. Everyone should dress in multiple thin layers of clothing, adding at least one extra layer for babies and young children compared to adolescents or adults. 

Children are affected by the cold more than adults due to their smaller bodies losing heat more easily. Too many thick layers, however, will cause them to sweat, which in turn will cause them to become even colder. Always make sure children are wearing warm boots, gloves or mittens and a warm hat. Sunglasses are equally important to wear in the winter, especially if there’s snow on the ground, since it reflects the sun’s ultraviolet rays and will make everything even brighter.

For babies, wearing the appropriate clothing indoors is just as important as dressing warm enough to stay comfortable outside. When babies are sitting in car seats they should not be dressed in the same thick coats they wear outside; they only need thin, snug layers. Likewise, they don’t need thick blankets or clothes inside, since the house is probably heated adequately; thin, warm sleeping clothes should be sufficient throughout the night. Loose blankets or quilts should never be used for young babies, since these can cover and suffocate the infants and can contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Neither children nor adults should spend long periods outside when the wind chill is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature is safe, kids can play outside for reasonable periods of time, depending on the temperature, with frequent breaks indoors when the weather is colder. 

There are many fun activities kids and adults can try during the winter, such as ice skating, sledding, skiing or snowboarding, or just playing in the snow. Skating, skiing and snowboarding should only be done on approved and safe surfaces, with appropriate supervision. The slope of the hill should be no more than 30 degrees when sledding, and hills should always be free of obstruction. Any of these activities help keep us healthy by contributing to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, and they also help give us the outlet to burn pent-up energy. This will in turn lead to happier and healthy families, benefiting young and old alike.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma. 

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