BLOOMINGTON — Your family's health shouldn't take the winter off.

Sure, it's more challenging to remain physically active as the days get shorter and colder and you just want to hibernate inside under a warm blanket. But it's possible, whether you want to remain outdoors, move your activities indoors or a combination of both.

"Sometimes, it takes a little bit of creativity," admitted Denise Balagna, athletics program manager for city of Bloomington Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department.

"You don't want to take the entire winter off from physical activity," said Tony Morstatter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal. "If you become sedentary, that will make it more difficult to get back into the swing in the spring."

"Living a healthy lifestyle is not just nine months out of the year," he said.

"We need to keep our bodies and minds active," said Doug Damery, director of the town of Normal Parks & Recreation Department.

Physical activity, in adults and children, reduces the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and lower back pain, said Balagna and Erin Kennedy, manager of the Center for Healthy Lifestyles at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center.

In addition, physical activity improves bone health, muscle strength and balance, boosts energy and improves sleep, they said.

When people exercise, their bodies release endorphins, which induce good feelings. That's why, after exercise, most people are in a better mood and are more relaxed, putting them in a better frame of mind to tackle problems at work, school and home, Kennedy and Balagna said.

"Exercise helps build self-confidence and self-esteem," Kennedy said. That helps to control depression, anxiety and stress.

Exercise is vital during winter, when some people suffer from seasonal affected disorder, a mood disorder prompted by lack of sunlight during winter.

"Exercise improves your quality of life," Balagna said. "It puts you in a better state of mind. Being active in any form has advantages physically, mentally and emotionally."

Being physically active together as a family or with a group of friends is even better.

"Families that are physically active together are building relationships with each other," Balagna said.

During and after common physical activity, families frequently share stories and ideas, Kennedy said. "Movement encourages brain function and connectivity to others."

"They are growing together as a family," Balagna said. "As the children grow up, that is something that they will want to do with their families."

And there's another reason to remain physically active.

"Exercise is fun," Kennedy said.

While everyone is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, it's important to remember — especially during a cold winter — that it's OK to break that up over several outings, Balagna said.

"Any physical activity is better than no physical activity," Balagna said.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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