Beat the winter blues: Explore the outdoors year-round

Fun winter activities that can keep the whole family active
Beat the winter blues: Explore the outdoors year-round

Finding the motivation to get up, get out and get active can get harder as the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder. But even with snow on the ground and a chill in the air, you can reap the many benefits of spending time outside. In fact, some winter activities can quickly become family favorites!

Here are a few ways you can get your family out for at least 30 minutes of outdoor fun – while reaping the many benefits of fresh air and physical activity.

Go Snowshoeing. Strapping on a pair of snowshoes can help you cross snowy terrain a bit easier than with a pair of sneakers or boots, and it can also burn major calories and be a fun, new way to explore the backyard, area woods and other locations as a family. Don’t own snowshoes? That’s okay! Several area retailers like REI, Fontana Sports and Rutabaga offer snowshoe rentals. Many area groups also sponsor snowshoe events, including the upcoming Candlelight Snowshoe event at Aldo Leopold Nature Center scheduled for Saturday, January 17.
Head out for a winter hike. Even if there is some snow on the ground, many local parks still provide hiking trails that offer a scenic escape from our everyday hustle and bustle. If you’re not sure where to go, try checking out one of the UW Arboretum’s free Sunday walks. These guided walks often include educational information about plants and animals you can find in the area.
Venture out onto the ice. While our area has plenty of indoor ice rinks, try out one of the area’s many outdoor ice rinks. In addition to the many rinks maintained by the Madison Parks Department, the new Edgewater Hotel recently opened up its downtown ice rink. If you don’t own ice skates, call ahead to see if the rink you want to try out has your family’s sizes available for rent.
Just play. Not looking for a big planned outing? Bundle up and head into the backyard for some good old-fashioned play time. Build a snow fort or family of snowmen. Make snow angels and look for paw prints in any fresh snow that may be on the ground. Even a fun game of tag in the snow can have the whole family laughing while getting the blood pumping.
Get creative. Crafts and learning don’t have to stay inside when the weather turns colder. Head outside and create fun crafts together while learning about the winter wonderland just outside your door. Try making colored ice balls together or check out some science-inspired crafts and activities like making a snow gauge or growing your own glacier as the winter wears on.
Work together. Just because winter is here, doesn’t mean outdoor chores are over until the spring thaw. Have the family work together to make snow shoveling a little more fun – and maybe even finish the work a little faster.

When you do head out on a winter adventure, make sure you’re also staying safe. While outings in colder temperatures are often perfectly fine, you may need to dress differently than you would during other times of the year.

Dress in layers and remember to remove layers as needed. Not only can layers keep you warm, but they can allow you to adjust your temperature based on activity level and changes in weather conditions. It can be very dangerous to be wet out in the cold, so if a layer becomes wet from snow or if you start to sweat from activity, remember to remove layers appropriately.
Wear the right shoes. Ice on sidewalks and trails can sometimes be hard to see. Make sure you’re wearing proper footwear that not only supports your feet and legs, but also offers enough traction in case you encounter some ice. Traction devices that strap onto any shoe – like YakTrax – are a great option.
Don’t forget the safety gear. In addition to dressing in warm layers and ensuring you have enough traction, don’t forget activity-specific safety gear like helmets and goggles. Even seemingly safe activities like sledding should be done wearing a helmet – frozen ground can cause serious injuries like concussions if you or your child hits the ground during a sledding spill. Monitor weather conditions. Wisconsin’s weather can change quickly. When you head out, plan to take breaks and remember to assess the temperature, wind chill and other weather factors as your activity wears on. If you can head in before serious snowfall or high winds kick in, do. Pay attention to the time. It’s always important to give your body a break. Because it’s not as hot out, sometimes it is easy to forget that your body will need rest during periods of activity. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and take a break every 30 to 60 minutes while being active outside. You might not feel overheated, but with extra layers and your body working to stay warm, it can be easy to over-do it. Listen to your body. If you start to feel tired or feel pain in your extremities from the cold, it’s time to go inside. Pain is a warning sign that your body needs a break and that sensitive tissue in your fingers and toes may need to warm up. Ignoring these warning signs from your body can lead to longer term damage.

By staying safe and trying out new ways to enjoy the weather, you can continue to reap the physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors. It doesn’t have to cost much – if anything at all – to enjoy all Wisconsin and nature offer year-round.