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December 8, 2017

Healthy Winter Activities for Families

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Physical Activity and Family Memories Go Together

By Eric Smiltneek, MD at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh

Much has been said about fighting off the winter blues. Daylight is scarce this time of year and it can adversely affect our moods, energy levels, and sleep patterns. I believe humans were not meant to hibernate, and I encourage my family and others to get outside and be active in the winter months. Give these ideas a try:

  • Host a dance party in your kitchen. This helps perk up dishwashing time when you flip on the radio to see what’s playing. Just for fun, scan for the oldies. If your family has a Google Home or Amazon Echo, take turns “requesting” songs off the internet, and everyone gets to share their favorite kind of music.
  • Walk in the woods. Did you know the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest sells Christmas tree permits for $5, which allows your family to search for and cut your own natural tree from the national forest? Look online for permit regulations (you need to plan ahead), then pack your Thermos, winter picnic, and camera. Your tree won’t be professionally pruned, but it will truly be one-of-a-kind.
  • Try a winter sport like skiing, snowshoeing, or ice skating. There’s no need to invest in expensive equipment right away if you visit a local nature center that rents cross-country skis or snowshoes, or a ski hill that rents downhill equipment. Since I helped establish Dr. Eric’s Skate Club in 2014, students of Webster Stanley Elementary and Middle Schools in Oshkosh can skate after school on Miller’s Bay off Menominee Park. It’s a lot of fun to warm up afterwards and laugh about about your harrowing runs and less-than-graceful falls.
  • Use Laps-Around-the-House for screen time and apps. When your young kids ask for screen time or new apps, challenge them to suit up and run around the house a set number of times for the privilege. I know a family whose young kids love to do this after supper. They look in the windows and wave to the adults laughing along with them, especially if grandma and grandpa are visiting.
  • Plan outings for cold Saturday mornings. Go swimming at the YMCA or go bowling to get your bodies moving and your family engaged. Waking up on a Saturday morning with the expectation of shared family time is a wonderful way to grow up.
  • Have your kids gotten away from suiting up in layers, tying on their boots, and putting on mittens and hats and scarves? Young people should be expected to help shovel snow and walk down to the neighbors’ house to help clean their front walk. No one is ever too old to build a snow creature. I have fond memories of coming inside after winter chores to hot cider, muffins, or simple toast and jam. The smell of wet winter clothes drying on the radiator still takes me back.

In winter, we often have to push ourselves and our families to get out there and get moving. When we do, we feel better, make memories, and sleep well. A little creativity makes cold weather one of the coolest times of year.

Are you looking for a doctor who can help you feel your best in all kinds of weather? Dr. Eric Smiltneek is accepting new patients at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh. Call his office directly at 920.237.5000 to schedule an appointment or call ThedaCare On Call at (920) 830-6877 or go to and click on “Find a Doctor.”