It's Winter! Go Play.


Dr. Ali Zentner is a specialist in cardiac risk management and obesity and was an expert on CBC's Village on a Diet.

I grew up in Winnipeg. Winnipeggers will tell you that their ability to endure countless winters relatively unscathed is their own Canadian badge of honour. As a kid in Winnipeg, I have amazing memories of such frozen times. 

I remember snow days that to this day put a smile on my face. The schools were closed and we were kids left to our own devices. We would bundle up in snow pants and ski jackets and brave the elements all for the promise of a perfect snowman built with love in our back yard. 

We would literally weather the storm with frozen faces, frozen hands and frozen toes all for the chance of making a snow day last forever. We spent hours in our yards building snowmen, staging military grade snow ball fights and running around like little lunatics without a sense of temperature and without feeling in our fingers and toes. 

My mother had to bribe us with hot chocolate just to get us indoors. 

When people ask me about outdoor sports as a child I always reflect back to these memories of me and my friends playing in the back yard on a snow day, freezing our faces off for the cause. 

We were hard-core prairie kids. We couldn't down hill ski but we could skate on a pond - for hours - in 30 degrees below zero weather. We could build forts out of snow and kitchen utensils that were the envy of all. 

I grew up and left Winnipeg in my 20s and somehow my winter sports moved indoors. I was in University after all and it became a challenge to find the time between my studies to exercise, let alone go outside in the winter. 

We were never a family that took "ski holidays", so outdoor sports became a thing of the past. 

When I re-took the path to fitness over a decade ago, it was truly an indoor affair. "Winter sports" involved exercise machines and no concern for the outdoor elements. I forgot what it was like to "play" outdoors in the winter time - to take up a winter sport or feel the snow beneath my boots just for fun. 

I suppose I reasoned that as a kid growing up in a prairie town a classic prairie winter prevented me from taking up winter sports. This really was a ridiculous claim. How could I spend hours outside as a kid getting fresh air and exercise with the risk of a frozen face, but now as an adult I had to confine my exercise to a gym?

Perhaps my change of heart came with a change of address. Eight years ago I moved to Vancouver. For some reason it was my move to the coast that broke my winter blues so to speak. 

Now I ride my bike - rain or shine - all year round. I have taken to snowshoeing with the same passion that I have for luxury footwear. Now, I do something every day outdoors regardless of the weather and almost look forward to what Mother Nature will bring. Outdoor exercise is now the only way for me to go, so I often wonder where the shift came? When did I return to that little kid in the back yard who loved the snow and fresh air and did not mind the cold? 

Last week I had my first skate-skiing lesson. Sure, it's a challenge and yes, I found myself face down in the snow a few times - but with a little bit of tenacity, I might find a new winter sport to love and keep me warm. 

It takes me back to the times when we were kids playing in the snow in the backyard. We did not care if our snowmen were perfect or if the snowballs we made were aerodynamically sound. We cared about having fun and being who we were meant to be. 

And so I will go back next week for my next lesson of skate-skiing. I will buckle up and bind in and hope that I'll fall a little less. I'll try to remember what it felt like to be a prairie kid on a snow day with a sense of play and I'll take on winter by storm. 

I have spoken (and written) many times before about the health benefits of daily exercise. The science is overwhelming in this area and interestingly it does not matter if you are snowshoeing or just indoors walking. We were made to move.  

So in these colder months, my dear readers: I challenge you to take a lesson from those fabulous prairie kids back in the day who braved the elements for the chance of a perfect snow day. Get outside this winter. Dress warmly, but get outside and play. Take up a new winter sport or reconnect with an old one. Your heart will be happier for it in so many ways. And who knows? Maybe you will find that the best kind of day is waiting for you in your own backyard.  

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