Spring is almost here, but at the same time, winter is still a reality for a little while longer. As Minnesotans and Midwesterners, we know that the spring, summer, and fall months allow us the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors almost 24/7. However, the reality is that these three seasons often only last a few months, and then we’re back to freezing temperatures, slippery roads, and hours upon hours of darkness.

When these months come about, they seem to be never-ending and often lead to us being stuck inside for days at a time. However, our need for fresh air doesn’t go away just because the sun does. There are many mental and physical benefits to going outdoors and enjoying the fresh air that are difficult to replicate in any other way. The biggest benefits are the boosts that we receive to our energy and immune system, which can ease our depression and anxiety and allow us to fight off colds and cases of flu.

So, when the cold months come around, though, what are we to do? One possible option is to continue to go outdoors. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, if this is your plan:
• Dress accordingly
• Don’t stay out too long
• Listen to your body

When it comes to how we dress, here are some tips. Be sure to dress in warm clothes: pants, boots, jackets, hats, and gloves. Many health experts say that the vast majority of our heat is lost through our head, neck, and hands. Be sure to focus your warmest clothing on those areas and if you start to experience pain or discomfort, go indoors and warm up!

All dressed up? Good! Now the snowy world is your oyster! Here are a few ideas of things you do by yourself or with friends and family:

• Ice skating
• Cross-country skiing
• Snowshoeing
• Have a snowball fight
• Build a snowman
• Make a snow angel
• Go sledding

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What if I have absolutely no interest in venturing into the frozen tundra?” That’s totally fine! The cold is definitely not for everyone and can exacerbate certain health conditions such as asthma. If warmer temperatures are more your thing, there are numerous options for you as well:

• Visit the zoo (you may spy animals in some winter garb)
• Visit a conservatory

Finally, some reminders… Limit your time outdoors to prevent injury from exposure, and listen to your body. If you start to experience any pain, go indoors and warm up. If the pain does not subside, worsens, or you notice color changes to your skin, seek medical assistance immediately.

The winter months can be dreary and take a toll on our mental and physical health, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it take us captive. Try some of these ideas this winter and hopefully bring some light into a dark season!

-Charles Westholm, MSW, LGSW