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Should kids play outside in winter? Science says yes

When the cold season rolls around, it can be tempting to stay warm, indoors. However, it can do more harm than good especially for children who need some form of physical activity every day for healthy growth and development. Being cooped up indoors means they’re likely to become restless, inactive or watch screens. There’s also increased exposure to diseases, germs and saturated air inside the home.

Dr Robert Murray, a US paediatrician and Founder of Action for Healthy Kids says, “The colder months can make getting kids outdoors a hassle for parents, as they fear [for their child’s] safety and have mixed feelings about exposing their children to the cold weather. With well-insulated caps, mittens, gloves, socks and appropriate layers, kids can get outdoors too and enjoy some fresh air.” Breathing fresh, cool air is rejuvenating for young lungs and there are other health benefits too when children play outdoors in winter.

Boosts children’s immunity

There are many benefits for children to be playing outdoors in the cold season. According to experts, interacting with natural elements like soil helps boost children’s immune systems by exposing them to harmless microbes. This provides protection against diseases and allergens.

A study in Portugal found that some children who suffered from asthma and eczema dealt better with flare-ups when they increased the time they spent outdoors. By playing outdoors in the fresh air, children also escape viruses and germs that thrive in warm, indoor areas.

Muscle groups development

Children can still enjoy playing on outdoor playgrounds as it helps children exercise their larger muscle groups and it takes more energy to stay warm in the cold helping children maintain a healthy weight. Swinging from monkey bars, running and jumping means children are using more muscle groups and energy, allowing them to develop their gross motor skills e.g. balance and maintain good health.

The surroundings, temperatures and landscapes look different in winter and this can capture their interest, prompting them to ask questions about weather, seasons etc. But, how cold is too cold to take children outdoors in winter?

Weather guidelines for outdoor play in winter

Experts say the rule of thumb is to check the wind chill factor in weather apps. Wind chill factor is a temperature that ‘feels like’ the temperature of wind on exposed skin according to FarmOnline Weather. Generally, in Australia, the wind chill factor doesn’t fall below -15C, which means it’s safe to be outdoors most of the time in winter. However, it’s advisable to take indoor breaks every 20-30 minutes.

In order for everyone to focus on having fun, kids need to be layered up in clothing suitable for cold weather: warm jackets, beanies and mittens, preferably waterproof.

WHO recommends that children under five need three hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, while older kids need 60 minutes of exercise. Avoid staying indoors in colder months. Layer up, get outdoors, have fun and stay healthy.

Since 1983, adventure+ has developed creative, safe and enjoyable playground experiences for thousands of children. If you need expert help with creating a playground that can withstand the colder weather, call our team on 1300 237 587 or email us.

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