Combat those winter blahs with a walk to the park

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January 14, 2013 // UPDATED 10:13 am - January 17, 2013
By: Hilary Reeves
Theodore Wirth Park.
Photo illustration by Sarah McKenzie
Hilary Reeves

It’s tempting in winter to hibernate. Find a cozy spot inside to read a book. Catch up on movies you missed from last year. Tackle some indoor project, whether it’s a puzzle or learning to knit or draw or putting together model airplanes from other eras of flight. 

But, there are lots of good reasons to push yourself—and any kids in your household—to get outside, even if only briefly. Not surprisingly, with the rise of computers and the internet, people are spending less time outside. Kids spend about 1/3 to 1/2 less time outside or playing sports than kids in the early 1980s. (Raise your hand if you grew up in the 1980s—were you outside much in winter?)

We also know activity is good, whatever the age. A few minutes outside in winter—fresh air, sunlight, and exercise—can do a lot to stir the spirit and the body in good ways. Unstructured play and free time “protects children's emotional development,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics. And kids benefit from activity in several ways (according to the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control, and California Department of Education): weight and blood pressure control; bone, muscle, and joint health; reduction in the risk of diabetes; improved psychological welfare; and better academic performance.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board throws out some strong lures for getting outside—including ice fishing! Walleye can be caught on lakes Harriet, Nokomis, Calhoun, Cedar and Lake of the Isles. If ice-skating, pond hockey, hockey, or broom ball are your thing, the daily status of each of the MPRB’s 47 ice rinks at 22 parks can be viewed online throughout the season at www.minneapolisparks.org/rinks.

Theodore Wirth’s 700-acres of urban forest offer cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, skijoring, cycling, and walking/running trails. Wirth Park can also set you up with gear, lessons, and a place to warm up with some hot food and drink.

For truly unstructured time and a chance to explore the world around you, a walk with your kids can be the easiest way to get outside. Here are some tips for making it a good walk.

Dress warmly. Layers are best. Make sure the layer closest to the skin wicks away moisture. Avoid cotton clothing or socks, as they can soak up perspiration and offer little warmth. Wear a waterproof coat and boots. Body heat is lost through the head, so wear a hood or hat that covers the ears. Gloves or mittens with long cuffs help keep snow out. If it’s getting toward dark, wear bright, reflective clothing, and attach blinking lights to your clothes.

Make it fun. In general, keep walks short, especially for younger kids, and/or build in warm breaks. And, everyone likes a warm reward at the end of the walk. 

  • If you’re out with little kids, remember: they have shorter legs than you. Go slowly and let them explore the world around them. Pretend you’re on an expedition. Study clouds or watch squirrels.
  • If you’re out with kids of different ages, pick a safe space to try letting the older child lead the younger, while the younger closes his or her eyes. This can be a great way for the older kid to increase awareness and attention to others and for the younger to identify everything that he or she hears or smells. (Make sure to supervise both children yourself.)
  • Remember that older kids like a destination or a goal—go see the frozen waterfall at Minnehaha Park, for instance.

Be aware. A walk is an good time to teach younger kids how to navigate safely and to remind older kids what they learned when they were little. Always walk on sidewalks; if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic. Cross only at corners or in crosswalks. Look both ways, and signal your intention to cross. Always watch for traffic to ensure you are seen. A good walk is also a chance to note the safety features around you, such as curb bump outs that make crossing distances shorter, count-down timers at crosswalks to let you know how much time you have to cross, or medians in the middle of the roadway that give people walking a safe place to wait. What features in your neighborhood make it safer for walking?

Event note:  If you like a good walk, don’t miss the  fifth annual We Love Our President’s Walk in Northeast Minneapolis, Saturday, Feb. 16. Walkers, bikers, even pets gather at 10 a.m. a.m. at Edison High School (between Washington and Monroe).  The Northeast Urban 4-H Club will lead walkers up Central;  along the way they will stop at designated points to share trivia about the presidents. After a stop for hoc chocolate at the Eastside Food Coop walkers will head East on 29th for a hot lunch and program featuring a trivia contest, drawing, prizes and a brief presentation.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities