Beat the rainy day blues: How to get kids active when they can't go outside

Whether you are dealing with children full of bottled up energy or simply want to encourage healthy habits, finding ways for kids to stay active on bad weather days can be a challenge. The normal diversions such as playing in the park, going for a hike or biking on a path may be impossible when rain, sleet or snow hits. Fortunately, there is no reason why children can't remain active even if the rain, rain won't go away.


How much physical activity do kids need?

"Kids should be physically active at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 60 minutes per day," said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director for Child Wellness at Children's Healthcare in Atlanta. "In general, it is recommended that kids are participating in structured physical activity for at least 30 minutes and free play for at least 30 minutes each day."

In a state with the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation, Children's Healthcare in Atlanta is well aware of the perils of prolonged inactivity. However, a healthy weight isn't the only benefit of staying active. Walsh says daily exercise can help reduce a child's risk for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also make children less susceptible to depression and anxiety while improving their academic performance and self-esteem.

Chris Schulz is the founder and executive director of the Active Kids Association of Sport, also known as AKASPORT. The Minnesota non-profit offers a variety of sport camps and recreation programs to children in the state and Twin Cities region. According to Schulz, sports activities offer more than just a way to burn energy.

"We like to use sports as a vehicle to teach lessons such as leadership and cooperation," said Schulz. "We want to look at the social aspect as well."

Tips to keep kids moving when the weather is bad

When it comes to the weather, there is no reason why kids can't stay active when the rain pours and the mercury drops.

"There are always facilities open," said Schluz. "Parents can get them to a health clinic or get involved in community centers and schools."

In addition, both Schluz and Walsh agree children can still go outside when the weather is cold. It is just a matter of bundling up properly before heading out to sled, ski or simply play in the snow.

However, when it doesn't make sense to go outside, Children's Healthcare in Atlanta suggests the following inside activities:

  • Set-up an obstacle course using household items
  • Hold a scavenger hunt
  • Have a contest to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks or other exercise during television commercial breaks
  • Go to the mall for a walk
  • Blow up balloons and play volleyball or basketball inside

Can video games replace physical activity?

With the recent introduction of active games on the Wii and X-Box Kinect, parents may be tempted to let video games fill in for physical activity on rainy days. Perhaps surprisingly, Walsh and Schulz both say that's ok.

"Just be sure your kids are choosing the more active games, such as Just Dance or Wii Fit," said Walsh. "All activity counts towards the daily requirement. Small bouts of exercise -- 10 to 15 minutes are effective as well."

Schulz adds that while video games can be a good way to introduce children to new sports and activities, they should also be used in moderation.

"Sometimes they take away from what kids really should be doing -- getting outside and free play," said Schulz. "Don't rely solely on those programs."

Keeping active throughout the day

Finally, parents should remember that children don't need to get all their physical activity at once. Finding opportunities throughout the day to be active for short periods of time can be just as effective as an hour-long play session.

"Remember that kids play in bursts of energy. We grew up playing tag and hopscotch where we would be very active for a short period of time and then rest," said Walsh. "Have kids do short running games. Younger children enjoy pretending to walk like different animals or do fun dance steps or other silly moves."

In the end, the key to keeping kids active may be to stay active yourself. Walsh notes that involving the entire family is one way to keep kids moving not just on rainy days but on all days.