alive logo

Winter Wonderland

Cold-weather family fitness


Winter Wonderland

This holiday season get the family out of the house and enjoy some old-fashioned winter activities. The golden rule for family fitness is to keep it simple.

Now that the holidays are under way, it can be a challenge to stay in shape. Instead of being jealous of the two preteens boxing on the interactive video game you bought them for Christmas to thwart childhood obesity, resolve to commandeer the controls of the first one who sits on the couch.

Imagine this scenario: In the kitchen, Grandma is reading a travel magazine, while Grandpa is staring mindlessly across the snowy back yard.

“What are you thinking about Dad?” you ask.

“I was just marvelling at how beautiful the back yard looks covered in snow. I was thinking about taking some photographs,” he answers.

“I have a better idea,” you say. “Let’s mess it up. Let’s all go out and build a snowman. Help me round up the kids.”

“Good luck with that,” Grandpa says. “They’re getting a workout with the computer.”
“Not according to two reports in Science Daily. They say computer games are only good for getting people started in fitness, at best. Let’s get everyone dressed to go outside. We can’t let all that good snow go to waste,” you say, grabbing your jacket.

Three hours later there is a two-metre snowman, a fort that began as an igloo, and several cleared spots marked with snow angels. Disintegrating snowballs lie scattered in the yard, remnants of the snowball fight with the neighbours. All this winter fun makes a great workout even though it doesn’t feel like exercise.

Staying Active with Canada’s Physical Activity Guide

Many Canadians follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating to ensure they are eating a balanced diet. What’s less well known is that Canada also has a guide to physical activity to complement its food guide.

Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living prescribes the amount of physical activity everyone–seniors, adults, teenagers, and children–should do per week to improve their overall health. Instead of a rainbow made up of food groups, the guide has a rainbow that features endurance, flexibility, and strength. The guide recommends an accumulated 60 minutes of physical activity every day. It also features a calendar in which to record the amount of physical activity you do each day. To order your free copy of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide, go to or phone 1-888-334-9769.

Playing Outside

Over the holidays there are many winter fitness activities for the whole family. The golden rule for family fitness is to keep it simple. Different age groups have varying levels of skill, strength, endurance, and experience. Choose activities that will include and challenge everyone. By writing them down in your physical activity guide, you’ll see how quickly they add up to your recommended daily dose of exercise.


Tobogganing is an activity that requires little skill. Find a snowy slope, position your toboggan at the top, and ride it down. Theoretically, riders can steer by leaning to one side, but someone else usually leans in the opposite direction, making the ride unpredictable and exciting.

Toboggans range from the traditional hardwood sled with the curved front to a piece of a cardboard box. The best choice is anything that will get you to the bottom first. Whichever toboggan you’re using, just enjoy the ride and hope there won’t be too many of your bones to sort out at the bottom. Also, look forward to the exercise you’ll get dragging it back to the top and the satisfaction of recording it in your activity guide.


Snowshoes allow you to walk on the surface of the snow without sinking up to your knees. They are an inexpensive way to provide a great winter outing for the family.

On the mountain, put the fitter and more energetic family members in the lead to break the trail for the others, and make sure everyone stays together.

Remember to pack survival gear essentials, including a cell phone. Canadian weather conditions can change quickly, and weather isn’t the only hazard. Avalanches can be a danger to those who venture into snowy mountainous areas. Check with the avalanche centre in your area for the latest bulletin.

If snow conditions warrant snowshoes, tree wells may have formed. These sometimes deep troughs present a hazard to unsuspecting skiers or snowshoers. While the effort of fishing Grandpa out of a tree well may well warrant an entry in your activity guide, it’s best to avoid these snow traps.


Whether it’s cross-country or alpine, skiing is one of the most popular winter pastimes. Unfortunately, it is not geared for different levels of ability. Family members who can ski will take to the hills and trails on their own, leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Try a more family-friendly and affordable approach: instead of heading to the ski slopes, find a snowy hillside in your area. There will be no need for lift tickets, and the cost of the day needn’t be more than the cost of equipment rentals. The following are some tricks to make the day on the slopes more memorable:

  • Engage the teenagers by making them ski instructors for the day. They can teach the snowplow and more advanced turns to everyone. The teens can also keep up with the littler ones, who tend to be the most daring.
  • Arrange poles into a slalom course. Explain that skiing without poles is good for balance.
  • Organize races and falling competitions.
  • Take lots of pictures.

Winter in Canada offers exercise opportunities for everyone. Many activities involve speed, balance, and aerobic exercise, and can be thrilling for any age group. While getting the family out of the house may require a little prodding or bribery, be firm. When you meet with resistance, just say, “See you at the bottom!”



Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Suzanne MethotSuzanne Methot