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Wintertime Exercise Ideas 

Outdoors

Sliding on Mount Philo

It's a challenge to be active in winter. Our natural inclination as warm-blooded mammals is to curl up on the couch with some cocoa and a movie. Until June, say.

But, if you can convince your couch to let you go, getting out will pay off in fitness spades. Everything is a challenge in the winter outdoors. Even a walk turns into a snow-trekking adventure.

If you're looking for something more exciting, take your kids sledding, or, as we call it in Vermont, sliding. This low-tech downhill activity requires very little equipment — just a backyard or neighborhood hill, some snow, and a sled.

Take it up a notch by heading to Mount Philo State Park in Charlotte. The park is closed in winter, but visitors can still walk, hike or snowshoe up the access road or the trails to the top of the 968-foot "mountain," with its panoramic views of the Champlain Valley. Bring your sled and you'll get a fantastically long ride down the road. Best of all, it's free in winter; there's no admission fee when the park is closed.

My husband, Kevin, and I recently drove to Mount Philo on a weekday afternoon for a bit of high-speed racing with our 3-year-old son, Oliver. It was a hit from the exercise perspective and scored high on the fun chart. Parents of young children may as well embrace the idea that they'll be getting some exercise, too, during the sliding. Rather than dreading it, prepare for it and enjoy the fun.

My son is currently in one of those barnacle-like clingy phases where he likes to be carried. And, when he's bundled into a snowsuit — think Ralphie's brother, Randy, in A Christmas Story — I can hardly blame him. I can hardly carry him, either. Enter the sled. We have one with a towrope, and we had to use it on the way up. Oliver did one of his trademark running dives onto it and we began our ascent, me feeling just a bit like a Sherpa.

I got some serious exercise by stepping into the sled string and positioning it just above my hips. That let me walk, hands free, with a little extra resistance thrown in. In this case, it was about a 35-pound resistance. Combine that with a decently steep incline and I got a fantastic workout, far better and more fun than any treadmill.

We moved uphill for probably 30 minutes — the walking sessions broken by stops for my son to hop out of the sled and jump into snowy ditches or climb snow-covered rocks. We made it to the intersection of the Devil's Chair Trail, not even close to the top. It didn't bother me that we didn't reach the summit — I hadn't set any particular expectations for how the climb would go. Any activity with your kids is more about the journey than the destination.

We slid downhill for about five solid minutes, with two short stops along the flatter stretches. These stops gave us an opportunity to clear the snow from Oliver's face that had been thrown up by Kevin's frantic foot braking on the steepest stretch. Consequently, Kevin suggests: Use your hands, not your feet, to brake.

Partway down, Oliver decided he wanted to switch sleds (small wonder), and he and I raced Dad all the way to the foot of the hill, taking the inside of the last curve to generally kick his butt. Mom is a superior sledder, as Dad has a bit of trouble controlling his slightly larger mass. But, as Oliver pointed out, "everybody wins, Mommy."

Sliding at Mount Philo is fun, and great exercise. A good mix of strength-training and cardiovascular activity leads to a total-body workout — including a stretch of the vocal cords when you rocket down the steepest parts.

You have to work pretty hard for that one trip down, but, to me, that's the best way to slide.

You will need: A sled, preferably with a towrope. An inflatable sled will work on the bottom pitches, but a boat-style sled is better for the inclines. Bring a helmet if you want to tackle the steep stuff. And wear warm clothing.

Where to park: In a lot at the base of the hill.

Bathrooms: They're closed in winter. Go before you go!

Ages: All ages.

Indoors

Hopscotch

Yes, hopscotch is an outdoor game, but you can easily bring it inside. Doing something so unusual will appeal to your young child's sense of mischief.

To get started, tape your "court" onto the floor. A typical hopscotch court has several numbered squares laid out in a line with a "home" square at the end. Some squares are "single," and the hopper must hop on one foot, while other squares are side by side, and the hopper lands with both feet. 

Painter's tape works well for indoor courts, as it's not especially sticky, but masking tape or other types will do, too. Older kids can help with the design.

Next, you'll need something to use as a "marker" (throwing rocks in the house is not recommended). If you don't have a beanbag handy, find a child's sock and stuff it with filler (e.g., other socks).

Now you're ready to play. In basic hopscotch, the player throws the marker into a square — without touching the boundaries — and hops through the court, skipping the square containing the marker. Get to the end and you've won. It's straightforward, but the beauty of hopscotch is that it's endlessly adaptable, so get creative!

The basic court has about 10 or 12 numbered squares, but you could choose to have more or fewer as you see fit. The court could become a path through your house, a fun thing to do on the way to the potty or a part of the nightly bedtime routine.

For young children, try using colored paper in the squares and have them identify the color they hop onto. For older kids, make a larger, more complicated court. Tricky squares could involve requiring a turn or hopping with eyes closed. For an extra challenge, try doing round-trips through the court, picking up the marker while balancing on one leg.

Parents can get involved, too — let your kids dictate the rules for the adults to make it more challenging.

You Will Need: Tape, floorspace, a "marker."

Ages: Can be adapted for any age, but generally 2 1/2-year-olds and older.

"Fit Families" is a monthly feature that offers easy and affordable ways to stay active. Got an idea for a future FF? Email us at ideas@kidsvt.com.
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