Rainy days and gloomy evenings are enough to make us reach straight for the TV
remote and curl up with a large tin of biscuits - usually with each member of the family keeping one eye on their phone or tablet at the same time. While we might like to think that sharing a sofa equals ‘quality time’, we’d be helping our children become much healthier - and, yes, happier - by getting outside and burning off some calories instead.
The UK is in the middle of an obesity crisis, with today’s children at a far greater risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke - and at a younger age - than older generations. According to the NHS, one in five Year Six pupils and one in 10 children in reception is obese, while, worryingly, four in 10 mothers and more than half of fathers think that their overweight or obese child is the right weight for their age.
A survey in West Yorkshire in 2014 found that more than eight out of 10 children would prefer to play outdoors than watch TV, yet over-cautious parents are not allowing them to venture beyond the home and garden. According to the Children’s Society, one in 10 school pupils between the ages of five and 16 has a mental health condition, while three quarters (75%) of all mental health problems are established by the time a child reaches 18.
We know that fresh air and physical exercise have a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing - so why aren’t more of us getting outside? Many parents cite a lack of time as the reason and there’s no doubt that the British weather is often used as an excuse, too! So here are some ways in which you can weave exercise into your family’s weekly routine. Try them and who knows - you might even have fun!
The festive favourite ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ should be updated to ‘skating’, we reckon, given the burgeoning popularity of winter attractions in the UK. Many have an ice rink and skating is great fun for the whole family, with penguin skate aids available for young children. Ice skating works almost every muscle group in your body, as well as improving coordination and balance and, of course, burning off all those mince pies. We hate to say the obvious but… go on, get your skates on!
Walking regularly boosts mental wellbeing and self-confidence, as well as improving sleep and helping to manage weight - all issues that children and young people face. Turn it into an adventure by letting them plan the route and follow the map, or suggest items to spot and collect along the way. If it’s drizzly, pull on those wellies and splash through the puddles (grown-ups too!).
Walking to and from school isn’t always possible around our busy working lives, but ditching the car for even two or three journeys each week is better than not at all. Walking also offers a good chance to talk about the school day and any problems. Any parents experiencing the moody teen phase knows that sitting around the table and suggesting ‘a talk’ is only going to be met with rolling eyes. But ambling along together, without the need to make eye contact, can make those tough conversations a little easier to begin.
Geocaching is basically a good walk with a screen in hand - surely a winner for parents and children alike! The idea is to find hidden ‘treasure’ at thousands of locations across the UK (and the world!) using GPS coordinates. You’ll need to download a geocaching app before you set off (many basic versions are free), enter your location or postcode and start hunting! At each cache you should find a logbook to sign, as well as little treats left by other players; etiquette dictates that you put the logbook back and replace your treasure with new items, which can include a notebook, pens and other trinkets.
If you really hate the rain (and, let’s face it, we have a lot of it in this country!), head to an indoor activity centre instead. Indoor rock climbing is often a hit with children for the sense of adventure and achievement gained by reaching the top of the wall. Parents who have never belayed before will need a quick course but, once you’ve been signed off as a competent belayer, you’ll be able to take the kids without needing an instructor each time. Climbing and bouldering - climbing on lower walls without the ropes - is particularly good for children who don’t enjoy team sports but love solving problems. Give it a try and watch their confidence soar!
Old school games
Sometimes, the oldies really are the best. Think back to your own school days, when hopscotch, running games, hula hooping and skipping were all playground staples. Primary school-age children still love these kinds of games, especially if you can rope in grandparents to share their memories too. Most of these games can be played in your garden or on the driveway, while hide and seek is always an indoor favourite when it doesn’t stop pouring!
As with geocaching, sometimes you have to admit defeat with those screens but turn them to your advantage. Nintendo has been helping families keep fit for more than a decade, with activities like Just Dance and the Wii Fit, which requires even more energy when you add a balance board! But with Nintendo announcing that Just Dance 2020 is to be the last ever Wii game, you might have to resort to those wellies and a nice muddy walk after all!
For parents wishing to protect their children’s health this winter, the Smart Health app from our partner AIG can provide a real boost. The app offers access to virtual GP appointments without the long wait to see a doctor at your local surgery, which can be a godsend for those winter ailments you suspect to be more than ‘just’ a cough or cold. Smart Health also looks after your family’s mental wellbeing and includes an online fitness programme.
ActiveQuote is a leading family health insurance provider in the UK, working with a number of national brands to find the right policy for your own needs at the best price. Use our online health insurance comparison tool or speak to our trained team on 0800 862 0373 to see what’s available.