Winter Health Tips for the Family
With summer a distant memory, parents now find themselves facing the challenge of keeping their children healthy during the colder months. This time of year can bring an array of health concerns, from coughs and colds to a lack of physical activity, but by focusing on good hygiene, a healthy diet, and physical activity, it is possible to ensure your child remains happy and healthy during the winter.
Give their immune system a helping hand
The first line of defence against illness is a robust immune system, and there are many ways you can give your child’s immunity a boost.
- Encourage them to eat balanced and nutritious meals that are rich in vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins such as skinless chicken and fish. Also ensure that snacks are healthy too; citrus fruits, plain full-fat yogurt, eggs, and nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts are all great immunity boosting foods to snack on.
- It’s also important to remember that cold weather can be deceptively dehydrating, so ensure your child stays well hydrated even if they don’t feel particularly thirsty. Being hydrated helps the body to function normally and supports its natural defences.
- Adequate rest is essential for a strong immune system with poor sleep increasing our susceptibility to certain illnesses. Including naps, babies need 12-16 hours of sleep a day, 1 to 2 year olds need 11-14 hours, 3 to 5 year olds need 10-13 hours, 6 to 12 year olds need 9-12 hours, 13 to 18 year olds need 8-10 hours. Establishing a bedtime routine for your child can help signal to their bodies that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
- Making sure your child receives all recommended vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine, will also give their immune system a helping hand.
Avoid the germs
Teach your child good hygiene habits that will help them to stay healthy and reduce the risk of illness for them and those around them.
- One of the most helpful habits to instil is proper hand washing. Lead by example and teach your child to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after going to the toilet, and after playing outside. Make it fun by singing a song or using colourful soaps. When soap and water aren’t available, carry hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol content.
- It is also important to teach your child to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they sneeze or cough to catch the germs. If they don’t have a tissue, the next best thing is to sneeze or cough into their elbow.
- Another useful tip to remind your child is not to touch their face. It’s a tricky one and can even be hard for adults to remember, but germs we pick up on our hands can make their way into our bodies through our mouth, nose and even our eyes.
Just being outside is good for your health, and you could say this is especially true during the winter months…
- It’s a common misconception that children should stay indoors in the warm during the winter to avoid getting ill, but we don’t catch germs from being outside in cold weather. We actually pick up viruses due to spending more time indoors with others in artificially heated buildings with poor ventilation. So, as long as children are dressed appropriately to keep warm, getting outside as much as possible during the winter is really beneficial for avoiding many illnesses.
- Most people can produce enough vitamin D by spending time outside even on cloudy days, but we do produce more vitamin D if it’s sunny. So the lack of sunshine during the winter months makes it all the more important to get children outside as often as possible to keep their levels topped up. Vitamin D helps their bodies to absorb calcium which is needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
- Being outside at any time of the year can have a really positive effect on children’s mental health. The fresh air and natural surroundings can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while promoting a general sense of wellbeing.
To keep physically fit, children aged 5-18 years need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, while younger children should spend at least three hours doing a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day.
Outdoor play, especially during the winter, naturally involves lots of physical movement to avoid getting too cold, which is great for helping children to develop strong muscles, improve cardiovascular fitness, balance, core strength and gross motor skills.
- Encourage things like puddle jumping; what kind of jump makes the biggest splash; can they kick all the water out of the puddle; what happens if they stir the puddle?
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Get your child searching for things like pinecones, winter berries, holly, frozen puddles, and encourage them to be more active by “flapping like a snowy owl”, “waddling like a penguin”, “twirling like a snowflake” etc.
- A garden obstacle course will not only keep your child warm when playing outside, but will also give them a full body workout. Use tunnels to crawl through, planks to balance on, cones to navigate, and ‘hurdles’ to jump over.
- Chase bubbles! Bubbles aren’t just for warm summer days; they’re great to encourage children to get moving even when it’s cold outside. On really cold days the bubbles may even freeze! Wave the bubble wand in the air, don’t blow on it, and if you’re gentle enough, it’s possible to catch the bubbles and watch as they ice over in your hand.
If the weather is too cold or wet to get outside, there are still ways to make sure your child is active indoors;
- Put on some music and get dancing! To make things more interesting, make it a competition or play musical statues.
- There are many interactive video games and free workout videos aimed at children available online that get children moving while having fun.
- Get your child to help out with the chores. Many household jobs are quite physical, such as sweeping floors, dusting, vacuuming etc.
- Play games that involve lots of movement, such as charades, Twister, or Simon Says.
- Indoor obstacle courses are a great way to keep children active. Crawling around in homemade dens, jumping from pillow to pillow, using sleeping bags or pillow cases for sack races, and playing ‘the floor is lava’ are all fun ways to entertain your child while making sure they get the exercise they need to stay healthy.
Wrap up warm
It goes without saying that when you are out and about in the cold, it’s important to keep your little one warm and dry…
- Dressing them in layers to trap heat and provide insulation is key. Start with a base layer made from a moisture-wicking material. This means the fabric won’t absorb moisture, instead it draws the moisture away from the skin so they stay warm and dry. Then add insulating layers, such as a jumper, before finishing off with a warm coat or jacket.
- Don’t forget to protect their extremities with hats, gloves, scarves, and warm socks. Boots with good insulation, such as a fleece lining, are really important to keep feet warm and dry.
- Make sure your child’s footwear is waterproof and their coat or jacket is both waterproof and windproof.
- Finally, remember the “plus one” rule; however many layers of clothing makes you feel comfortable at a certain temperature – add one more layer for your child.