I got to take another very chilly morning walk this morning and I couldn’t feel better! Yes, I “got” to take it. I didn’t have to take it. I didn’t force myself to take it. My attitude was that I “got” to take the walk, which made all the difference in whether I dreaded it or embraced it — no matter the weather.
So I’m taking a quick minute at the keyboard before the whole house wakes up, my fingers still a little cold, to talk about the benefits of getting outdoors in all kinds of weather.
We do that at Camp Alleghany for Girls. Rain, c-c-c-c-c-old mountain mornings, hot and sunny afternoons, none of that stops ‘Ghany Girls from getting out and about. And I’d heartily recommend that approach year round, too.
Yes, you GET to go outside!
Just the other day I was reading a Washington Post article titled, “How to embrace being outdoors in winter, rather than dreading it.” It covered this valuable Norwegian idea on outdoor living known as “friluftsliv” that we should all adopt. It basically means getting outside, no matter the weather, year round, and just doing it!
I felt so affirmed! I thought, “No, I’m not crazy after all,” for trying to get outside in every season and every type of weather condition. I’m simply keeping on keeping on, whether sweating it out, ducking the downpour, or shivering a bit because I know in my bones — like ancestral memory or something — that this is so good for me.
And you — and your kids — will benefit from making this a part of your life, too.
So here are my top three reasons for making time, like the Nords, for the outdoors every day.
1. Work Up A Tolerance and Transform Your Life
I do a lot of reading on how to have the healthiest, most robust, most resilient body and best immune system that you can, a message that’s never been more important than now during the pandemic.
So much of the advice I find is about being willing to regularly put your body into somewhat uncomfortable situations, like extreme temperatures, even for brief amounts of time. It’s about learning to be uncomfortable for a bit and thus training your body to be ok with it.
This could be in the form of hydrotherapy by turning your morning shower to cold for 20-60 seconds. Yes, it’s COLD! Try five seconds for a week, then 10 seconds the next week, 15 seconds the third week. Soon you’ll actually be craving the bracing affect this has on your system.
They hey, after a while if you’re ready for it — and have permission if not an adult — then you can even take the Polar Bear plunge and jump into a really cold body of water on New Year’s Day.
If icy water sounds too scary just yet, your body’s acclimation to diverse climes can be built simply be going out into very cold temperatures, lower than what you’re normally comfortable with, and walking or running. Do it every day and soon this builds up your body’s strength, resilience, and health.
Interestingly in the Waldorf School method (my kids don’t go to Waldorf, but it’s an interesting option nonetheless), they advocate that kids go outside for recess in ALL weather as they believe it “builds the will,” which is kind of another way of saying it trains kids’ reserves of physical and mental resilience.
I’m fortunate to be in a group of friends at home who are like-minded in this way, and we’re always advocating for outside time for our children even when the temperatures are very low. Our kids’ public school will allow recess and outdoor activities at 32° or above, but we’d all be fine with lower temps as long as the kids were bundled up with the right clothing or gear.
You and your kids will find yourself feeling more comfortable in colder temperatures by taking it a little at a time, especially when you’re moving — raking leaves, tossing the football, playing tag, walking fast.
I’ve been taking an early morning walk around my neighborhood almost every day since coming home from camp, and we’ve had some mornings in the 30s, and it hasn’t stopped me! I like the idea of making myself more robust and resilient to the cold temperatures.
And boy does it give your cheeks that healthy glow!
2. Let the Sun Shine In!
Another detriment that results from NOT going outside in cool and cold weather is missing out on that all-important vitamin D that comes from a little healthy sun exposure. Also the mood lifting it confers — a sunny day can go miles toward making you feel good mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And if you get a little bit of it every day, the benefits multiply.
Sure, some cold days aren’t sunny, or are overcast, but many autumn and winter days offer a great opportunity to catch a few rays simply by taking a walk, hanging out at your kid’s sports game or practice, having your coffee on the deck for a few minutes, or in these coronavirus times, grabbing a blanket for outdoor dining.
YES, there are differing views on sun exposure. And I’m not here to say one way is better than the other in terms of any individual’s skin type, or age, and when and how much sunscreen to use (we encourage sunscreen at camp simply because of how many consecutive hours are spent outdoors overall, and day after day, and other factors like water reflection in the river).
But increasingly there’s a return to the idea that moderate sunlight is actually good for you, as the article I linked above argues.
At a time when the cold-averse among us would be just as happy to hunker down indoors from October to April, we have to admit that seasonal affective disorder can be exacerbated or accelerated in these conditions. When mood goes down, depression can rise, and even simple motivation can begin to flag. Just seeing a little bit of sunshine every day, even when there’s a nip or more in the air, can make all the difference for you and your kids feeling “on track” during the winter months.
Happy parents and grandparents and happy kids equal easier times around the home especially when we’re otherwise staying home way more than usual. So getting a little kiss from the sun every day (whenever possible) is another great reason to make getting out and about in the cold a regular part of your routine.
3. Life is an Adventure
As I wrote above, a simple shift in attitude from “I have to,” to “I get to,” can make any thing we do feel less daunting, and more like an opportunity.
Raking leaves can go from being a yard clean up chore to being a chance for running and jumping and flopping and even photo-opping outdoors. Nothing is as Instagrammable as a pile of kids in a pile of colorful leaves! And you usually warm up from both the chore and the play.
Getting a walk in on the weekend can go from to-do list check-off to wilderness adventure simply by packing the whole family off for a nature walk on your local trails or to a state or national park. Enjoying brisk air and winter wildlife can turn daily step counts into meaningful nature lessons, conversations, and things to do afterward instead.
Maybe you see larger birds of prey, or the white tail of a deer, maybe you collect pine cones for winter crafts, pick up some interesting leaves (where allowed) or spy fungi on a tree. All of these are perfect opportunities for family talks and encouraging kids to “look it up,” when we get home if you don’t know the answer. Life is not all about the busy lake, the vibrant beach, and the active game field — it’s also about the mysterious forest, the climbable rocks, and the whisper of quiet on a meadow.
We do have to sometimes push ourselves to do these activities in cold weather. But that push — making the effort, taking that first step, rinsing and repeating, can refashion our lives into new and powerful routines, habits that help us and our kids form a lifelong relationship to the outdoors while setting the tone for more and more adventures going forward.
This weekend a hike, next weekend ice skating, the next touch football on New Year’s Day. (And hey, let’s not forget hot apple cider or cocoa — or hearty soup — afterward!)
Learning to tolerate — or even LOVE — cold weather might mean your kid is the one who wants to learn to ski, snowboard, or gleefully enter the local snowman contest, all things that will keep her active, creative, and energized! Maybe they’ll become an alpine hiker, study abroad in Norway during college, or become that researcher who monitors one of the poles! 🙂
It doesn’t have to be that dramatic, of course, because even gentle, regular effort to put one’s self out there in all seasons builds the mind as well as the body and simply keeps life interesting.
But you have to begin by beginning — so go outside and play!
The Clothes Make the Man (Or Woman!)
One final note is on clothing. Obviously all of this cold weather cheerleading is dependent on making sure you’re well-equipped with the right gear for the right situation.
In all honesty, if you read that Post article on cold weather I cited above, it has a bunch of great Nordic-insider gear tips that I won’t repeat here.
What I will say is that this approach is indispensable at our summer camp.
At ‘Ghany we encourage rain boots and rain gear on the packing list and really hope most parents will prioritize them. The reality is that we shift gears but keep our activities going in the rain. And of course the girls need to get to the Dining Hall, the Play Hall for Evening Activities, and to the Johns whether rain or shine. Good bodily coverage makes a (no lightning) rain shower not a downer, but instead another way to splash, laugh, and play along the way.
And with the potential for Covid restrictions next summer, we may have to move through or be in the rain even more so that we’re physically spread out, and not all crowded into one small indoor space when it rains.
I’m reminded of the summer of 2015 when it rained Every. Single. Day…of First Term. No lie, 21 straight days of rain, and we all survived and it was its own form of memorable! Also the very first summer of Mini Camp in 2003, which was a total washout with rain the entire week! What a way to get to know camp! But many campers look back fondly and laugh about it now.
Life is, indeed, an adventure and some of it is unpredictable. We have to adapt, and be of good cheer.
I get to go to camp*. I get to take an early morning walk. I get to breathe in the brisk fresh winter air. I get to warm up my blood and stimulate my circulation with a run around the soccer field even in November.
I get to live this life, this beautiful, mysterious, wondrous life. And, “neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of night…” will stop us from finding the best — and making the best — of it all. You can’t throw cold water on a great attitude!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
*If you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child.