If the only exercise your family gets during the winter involves the thumb on the remote control, Susan Adams, M.D., a St. Louis Children's Hospital pediatrician, recommends that you get everyone moving.
"Children are becoming heavier because they snack too much and don't get enough exercise," she says. "I tell parents to limit television and video games to one hour of the day even in the winter, when they might need to get more creative to keep their kids active."
How about a trip to the local YMCA or a nearby gym? "The great thing about those facilities is that they provide a range of activities, classes and equipment that everyone in the family can enjoy," Dr. Adams observes.
To catch some sunshine bundle everyone up and, head for the nearest park, take a hike or a bike ride, or stay home and make a family day of raking leaves.
If your children like team sports, winter's a great time to check out the community's offerings of basketball, volleyball, soccer and karate clubs. Any of these sports can be enjoyed all year round, indoors or out. If there's an indoor tennis club nearby, take advantage of that.
For families with teens who would object to spending so much time with the family, Lynn White, M.D., director of the St. Louis Children's Hospital Adolescent Center, recommends building exercise into daily activities. "Remind them to take stairs instead of elevators, and encourage them to stay active with their friends," she advises.
Just as children learn exercise habits from their parents, they also follow their parents' eating behaviors. "Gaining extra weight in the winter is unnecessary and can be avoided in adults and children alike," says Marylin Tanner, St. Louis Children's Hospital dietitian.
Tanner encourages families to rethink wintertime social events and holiday parties as times for activities and not just occasions to eat. "Then every gathering of friends and family won't be an excuse to overeat," she says. Instead, plan a friendly tag football game, a walk around the neighborhood, or even play indoor games.
"If you feed them well before the party and keep them busy with fun activities at the party, children won't spend the entire time snacking," she adds.
Even days in front of the television can be filled with healthful snacks and exercise breaks. "During commercial breaks and at halftimes, families can turn down the television and dance around the house to their favorite music," Tanner says. "Of course, you feel more like doing that when you aren't weighed down by fatty snacks. Lighten up with baked chips, low-fat dips, fruits and vegetables."