With winter comes the temptation to hibernate, snuggling under a fuzzy blanket with a good book, playing video or computer games, and watching endless television. But in the long run, we know better than that. Not surprisingly, health professionals say many people gain weight during the winter months. With pediatric obesity levels at an all-time high, it’s vital that your family keep moving despite the cold.

There are plenty of outdoor seasonal activities to help you and your children stay physically fit: skiing, sledding, ice skating, building a snowman. But what do you do when the weather is too raw to play outside?

Shake It Up, Baby

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued its first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (health.gov/paguidelines), with a recommendation that children and adolescents do an hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. That’s a tall order when you’re stuck inside, but it’s not impossible. For example, you can:

  • Encourage your child to get involved playing an indoor sport he might enjoy, such as basketball, swimming, or gymnastics. Contact your town recreation commission, community center, the local YMCA, or private organizations that offer classes and other opportunities.
  • Take a weekly yoga class with your teen or shimmy to salsa, samba, and meringue music in a Latin-inspired Zumba fitness course.
  • Enroll your child in a kid-friendly karate or taekwondo lesson.
  • Go bowling or ice skating at an indoor rink.
  • Work out to an exercise DVD from the library.
  • Ask at your gym about the minimum age required to use the treadmill and other cardiovascular equipment. For example, some Ys allow kids age 11 and up to use certain equipment, but only after they learn how to use it safely and properly. In addition, research gyms and Ys that offer interactive cardio equipment that appeals to adolescents, such as the Expresso bike with video monitor and 3-D graphics, or the Sportwall, which gets the heart pumping at the same time it improves hand-eye coordination.
  • Find video software or toys that get your kids off the couch and moving.

Twist & Shout

Less-structured ideas work too, and fighting winter’s sedentary inclinations can be as simple as an indoor scavenger hunt or a game of hide-and-seek.

“The key word is planning,” says David Scott, an exercise physiologist and coordinator of the KID-FIT program at Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Memorial Hospital. “We have to create physical activity plans for our children.”

Getkidsinaction.org suggests:

  • Bop and boogie to music or dance videos. Or play a game of “freeze dance,” in which kids dance until the music stops.
  • Enact different animal movements in a modified game of charades.
  • Use a foam ball for indoor catch or basketball.
  • Spin a hula hoop (provided you have enough space).
  • If you have more than one child, try traditional games like Simon Says or the Hokey Pokey. For younger children, Duck Duck Goose and Ring Around the Rosie are time-honored favorites.

“Kids who exercise have far less depression; they suffer less anxiety. They’re happier kids,” Scott says.

Three Types of Exercise

Government guidelines say children should participate in three types of physical activity—aerobic (such as brisk walking or dancing), muscle strengthening (gymnastics or push-ups, for example), and bone strengthening (like jumping rope or running).

“This may sound like a lot, but don’t worry. Your child may already be meeting the [guidelines],” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “And you’ll soon discover all the easy and enjoyable ways to help your child meet the recommendations. Encourage your child to participate in activities that are age-appropriate, enjoyable, and offer variety.”

At the same time, don’t overdo it. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions parents to “remember to tell your child to listen to his/her body. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If this occurs, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. If your child’s weight drops below an average, acceptable level, or if exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk with your pediatrician.”

Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer and the mom of two active children who stay physically fit.