"Bundle up before you go outside or you'll catch cold." Many of us grew up with the idea that going out in cold or wet weather causes colds and other illnesses. But colds, the flu, and other illnesses are caused by germs like bacteria and viruses, not by cold weather. In fact, fresh air and active outdoor play, even if it's cold outside, can help keep us healthy.
When children spend long periods of time inside, especially in groups like at child care, germs can pass easily from one child to another. Opening a door or window will let in fresh air and help clear some of the germs out of the air. Letting outside air into the room will also help with any odors and can make the room feel fresher. So, even during the winter, it’s a good idea to open a door or window every day, even if it's just for a few minutes.
In addition to keeping indoor areas well-ventilated, children should spend time playing outdoors every day. Playing outside helps reduce the spread of colds and other illnesses. This is because spending time outside in the open air reduces the amount of time children are breathing each other’s germs. Even children with mild illnesses, like a runny nose or cough from a cold, will benefit from spending time playing outside. Remember, it is germs that cause illness, not cold weather.
Playing actively outside has other benefits as well. Active play helps maintain a healthy weight and builds strong bones and muscles. Playing actively can reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and may help children sleep better at night. Going outside to play also offers children an opportunity to practice their large motor skills and to explore in a different environment.
There are times when children should not play outside. Caution should be used for temperatures below 40 degrees F. Shorter play times may be best for very cold days. And at 15 degrees F or below, children should stay inside. We are fortunate to live in a place with mild winters, so children in this area should be able to play outside most days during the winter.
If the body gets too cold, it can be easier to get sick. To avoid this, dress appropriately for the weather and change out of wet clothes. Wearing layers, such as a shirt with a sweater and a coat, is a good way to be prepared for different temperatures and to be able to adjust if the temperature changes. Make sure your child has extra clothes at school in case their clothes get wet. Also, remember that even if it's cloudy, children should wear sunscreen when playing outside.
Active outdoor play helps adults stay healthy too, so find time this winter to have fun playing outdoors with your family.
These websites have more information about playing outside in winter: