Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
Wintertime activities are not only enjoyable; they serve an important role in our physical and mental health. Winter sports give us a chance to get the exercise that improves our cardiovascular health, helps us maintain a healthy weight, and increases the neurotransmitters in our brain that promote happiness and wellbeing.
When we engage in outdoor activities, we breathe fresh air, which lowers our chance of contracting a contagious illness (including COVID-19). Also, spending time in nature lowers rates of anxiety and depression. And being outdoors during daylight hours also helps mitigate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
When we celebrate our favorite holiday traditions, we feel emotionally connected to our loved ones, and experience positive emotions like hope and joy.
Even though COVID-19 has changed a lot about the way we live our lives, there are still wintertime activities you can engage in while staying as healthy and safe as possible. Here are some suggestions!
1. Take an outdoor fitness class.
It’s important to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise) every week, but this can be hard to do when many gyms are closed, and when spending time indoors in public spaces increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.
So, consider signing up for an outdoor fitness class! Some classes are held in public parks, and others are held in a designated outdoor space on the gym’s property. These classes provide structure, accountability, professional instruction, and the opportunity to experience connection with other people in an outdoor, physically distanced, low COVID-19 risk environment.
2. Play in the snow (or cold).
Whether you engage in a structured winter sport like skiing and snowboarding, or in casual play, like building a snowman or sledding, spending time in the snow is a great idea for several reasons.
The rate of virus transmission is much lower outdoors than indoors. Also, natural light improves our sleep quality and mood. And exercise improves our physical and mental wellbeing.
Just make sure that you physically distance yourself from anyone who’s not a member of your household, wear warm clothing, and protect your eyes from UV rays that reflect off the snow. Also, ensure you research the precautions your local ice-skating rink or ski resort is taking so you and your family can be prepared to adhere to any new guidelines. Winter injuries are more common than you think.
3. Shop at an outdoor market.
We know that shopping for gifts is a popular activity during the holiday season. Since indoor public spaces pose a higher risk of virus transmission, shopping at an outdoor market can be a healthier option, since there’s plenty of fresh air and more space to physical distance.
An added benefit is that many outdoor markets feature goods from independent vendors and small businesses, so your purchases can support people in your community whose livelihoods have been economically impacted by the pandemic.
4. Do a physically distanced cookie or gift exchange.
While it may not be possible to do an in-person cookie or gift exchange this year, it’s possible to create a similar experience!
You can leave goodies on the doorsteps of your neighbors and friends, arrange a drive-by exchange, or designate a neutral area for drop-off and pick-up. These options let you spread holiday cheer without spreading viruses like COVID-19 and the flu. You can also plan a virtual exchange and open gifts with your friends and family over a fun-themed video chat. Make sure you wash your hands before and during the baking process!
5. Safely visit Santa.
Telling Santa what’s on your wish list is a highlight of the year for many children. This year, instead of having families wait in crowded lines and letting children sit on Santa’s lap, many stores are getting creative with options that let children safely visit Santa this season.
Some offer appointments to avoid overcrowding, others have Santa in a snow globe or other structure to protect him and the children who come to see him, some offer virtual Santa visits, and others are hosting outdoor events.
By researching venues near you that are taking COVID precautions, you can give your children the Santa Claus experience while keeping them healthy and safe.