It seems like a new academic study appears every week, touting the benefits of fresh air and the great outdoors. While these are refreshing findings, outdoor activities, even in mild-weather Alabama, are usually associated with summers on the lake, crisp fall hikes, and other warm-weather fun. Yet winter offers some of the Yellowhammer State’s best excuses to get outside, from comfortable temps and smaller crowds to the chance you may see migrating birds and other species of wildlife.
Rather than wait for spring break in another month or two, here are four reasons to get your whole family outdoors in Alabama this winter, along with five fun activities for making the most of the season.
1. You’ll Enjoy Fewer Crowds
Even if the weather remains mild and pleasant in Alabama all winter long, it’s a tough time to get away: School’s in session, the post-holiday malaise has set in, and you’re most likely already looking forward to spring and summer breaks on the school calendar. While it can be challenging, this is the perfect time to head outside and explore Alabama’s wetlands, waterways, forests, and beaches—especially in the southern half of the state. You can enjoy paddling through swamps, road biking back roads, and frolicking on warm, sandy beaches without the crowds that head outside in the heart of summer.
2. It’s a Good Time to Get Some Vitamin D
Getting enough Vitamin D in the wintertime can be hard. You stay inside more avoiding the cold temps and when you do go outside you are covered up with warm clothing. Getting outside in the sun during the winter as much as possible is really important to keep those Vitamin D levels up. Since the sun is not as strong in the wintertime, it can be a good way to soak up some rays with less of a chance of being burned—though it is always important to use proper sun protection even during the colder months.
While too much sun exposure can have negative effects on your health, there are many benefits to be had as well. In a study done by Harvard Medical School benefits of time in the sun for kids is proven. The sun helps increase Vitamin D, which is necessary for improving bone development—an essential part of raising a healthy child. The sun also helps improve your immune system, betters your mood, and supports more restful sleep.
3. It Gets Kids Active!
If you’re worried about your children playing too many video games, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, more than 80% of the world’s adolescents aren’t physically active enough. So turning off WiFi and getting outside can help boost physical activity and create habits that can carry over into a healthy adulthood. Every activity from walking around a neighborhood park to paddling some of the 132,000 miles of rivers and streams that crisscross Alabama will give you and your family a good dose of fresh air and physical activity.
4. The Whole Family Will Develop a Deeper Appreciation for Nature
Isn’t there something magical about discovering the wonders that Mother Nature has created? From waterfalls tumbling over rocky hillsides to the whimsical notes of migrating songbirds, there’s so much to discover and learn about the outdoors. In the study by Harvard Medical School cited above, Claire McCarthy, MD, says that getting outside, digging into the soil, seeing animals in their natural habitat, or even staring at clear ocean waters can imbue children with a love of the outdoors and an appreciation of what it offers. Once that love for the outdoors grows, it’s easy to encourage your children to head outside and play rather than stay cooped up indoors in front of screens.
Winter Activities in Alabama
For so much of the country, getting outside in winter means slogging through one rainstorm after another, chattering through freezing temperatures, or contending with snow and ice.
Not so in Alabama, where a mild climate makes winter the perfect time to get outdoors and explore the state’s sweeping natural beauty. Here are five ideas for getting the family outside and making the most of the cool season this winter in Alabama:
1. Explore Gulf State Park
Pleasant winter weather means it's the perfect time to explore Gulf State Park's two miles of beaches, spend a night camping, paddle on Lake Shelby, or fish from the park's iconic pier.
2. Spy Wildlife at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
For 40 years, the Gulf Coast wildlife refuge has been a protected habitat for migratory songbirds, along with sea turtles and beach mice.
3. Head Underground at Cathedral Caverns State Park
When the weather won't cooperate, head underground and explore the park's magical rock formations.
4. Visit the Highest Point in Alabama
The mountaintop summit at Cheaha State Park boasts a restaurant, lodging, a modern campground, hiking trails, biking opportunities, and more—all of which pairs well with the sweeping summit views.
5. Step into Another World at Dismals Canyon
The sandstone gorge hides a mythical sunken forest at its base—with hiking and biking trails, horseback riding opportunities, dazzling nighttime glow worms, and more.
No matter what you decide to do outdoors in the winter be it close to home or a day-trip to another spot, the most important thing to take away from all of this is be sure to stay active and get fresh air year-round. Not only will it help boost your mood but it will keep you and your kids healthier in the long run as well. So bundle up and take a walk around the neighborhood or explore a local park or wildlife refuge when the temps are cool.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for Matcha in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.