February is American Heart Month, when the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promote heart-healthy activities for all Americans, including kids of course.
The American Heart Association encourages parents to develop healthy habits in their children now, recommending at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to help kids’ hearts stay healthy.
Whether you’re looking to get outside or you prefer indoor activities, Pittsburgh abounds with opportunities to get your kids’ hearts beating and blood pumping. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite winter activities that will give kids a workout, keeping those sweet little hearts healthy and strong.
Snow tubing at Boyce Park
With the steepest snow tubing hill in western Pennsylvania, Boyce Park in Monroeville and Plum is a prime destination for heart-pounding winter fun.
“It’s important to give kids something to do in the winter to get out of the house and get some exercise,” Evanto says.
Kids must be over 42 inches tall to ride, and kids between 42 and 50 inches tall must ride with an adult, notes Kevin Evanto, chief marketing officer for Allegheny County.
On Feb. 15, the snow tubing hill at Boyce Park will be open all day. (Regular weekday hours for snow tubing are 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but the hill will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for Presidents Day.) The park also offers snowboarding and skiing, including affordable group and private lessons.
Pittsburgh Paintball Park
For heart-racing action sans snow, Pittsburgh Paintball Park gives kids the opportunity to run, hide and attack as they play battle on wooded fields with jungle and Vietnam themes and on concept fields with a castle or football arena.
Located in the city of Pittsburgh between Carnegie and Crafton, the park is open year-round seven days a week when the temperature is above 20 degrees, says Pittsburgh Paintball Park Manager Jim Brophy.
“Kids love this place; it’s like an adventure park,” Brophy says, adding that kids as young as 6 can play. Younger kids play in groups separate from the big kids.
Venture Outdoors is offering special events throughout February to get kids outside and trekking through the wilds of the suburbs as well as the concrete jungle of Downtown Pittsburgh. For kids ages 5 and up, the improv comedy hike on Feb. 13 takes youngsters on a one-hour tour through the Cultural District and ends with a one-hour show at the Penny Arcade at Arcade Comedy Theater.
Venture Outdoors’ staffers will lead a snowshoe adventure hike through North Park on Feb. 20 for kids ages 8 and up and their families.
In addition to fostering the spontaneous activities that keep little hearts healthy, play time in the great outdoors also develops children’s focus and attention spans, says Lora Hutelmyer, youth programming manager for Venture Outdoors.
“Being outside in nature can help you at any age,” Hutelmyer says, pointing to studies showing as few as 30 minutes a day in the outdoors can help to cultivate children’s creative thinking and leadership skills, too. “There are long-term benefits of being regularly active in the outdoors.”
Many indoor rinks offer year-round ice skating, but for the most authentic experience, head to one of the outdoor rinks to fill little lungs with fresh cold air and little hearts with joy. North Park and South Park will each host Royal Skate and Singalong events on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27, where everyone’s favorite ice princess and her sister will make special skating appearances.
On Feb. 15, the North and South Park rinks will open from noon to 5 p.m. when most schools are closed for Presidents Day. And Citiparks’ Schenley Park in Oakland offers learn-to-skate classes, creative movement programs and open skating almost every day.
Many youth team sports tend to move indoors for the winter months, but dek hockey offers kids a chance to enjoy the thrill of competition and the warmth of camaraderie while playing outdoors, any time of year.
For dek hockey skill-building, the Allegheny County Parks Department is holding free clinics on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27 for kids between 4 and 15 years old at the new rinks at North Park and Settler’s Cabin Park. A third dek hockey rink in South Park is currently under construction, Evanto says.
Mellon Park Indoor Tennis
For families who miss their summer sports, Citiparks offers indoor swimming at Oliver Bath House on the South Side and five indoor tennis courts at Mellon Park in Shadyside. Kids as young as 4 can learn tennis basics using big rackets and little nets almost every day on weekends and evenings, says Citiparks Executive Director Jim Griffin.
“You have to be more thoughtful and mindful of being active in the winter when the atmosphere and the pace of life slow down,” Griffin says.
SportsWorks at Carnegie Science Center
At the indoor learning playground of Highmark SportsWorks at Carnegie Science Center, kids can get their hearts pumping with cardio-friendly activities like the rock-climbing wall, the You-Yo and the Rocktopus. And after boosting that pulse, kids can measure and compare their heart rates at two SportsWorks stations. This kind of physical education is important for kids, whose hearts start racing much faster than adults’ hearts do, says Education Coordinator David Hart.
“It’s so much easier to exercise your body and keep yourself moving the younger you are because your heart is ready for that,” Hart says.
Jump With Jill
For Jill Jayne, whose school assembly program Jump With Jill gets kids dancing while learning about nutrition and exercise, blowing off steam with unstructured play counts as intense activity that will serve kids well throughout their lives.
“When kids are active as children, it’s much easier for them to be active as adults because they’ve laid the groundwork for health,” Jayne says. She also recommends obstacle courses, swimming and brisk walking (that uphill climb after a descent on the sled counts!) as fun ways to get kids’ hearts pumping in the winter.
Snowed in? Kids can get their heart rates up at home with Jill’s online videos of kid-friendly songs and step-by-step dance moves.
Altimate Air Trampoline Park
For little ones with a special penchant for jumping on furniture, redirect that spirit with the 30 connected trampolines at Altimate Air Trampoline Park in North Versailles. Every Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, the indoor space offers special jump pricing for kids ages 6 and under. Other heart-thumping activities included in admission are dodgeball, slamball, an ultimate ninja obstacle course and a bounce house for kids under 46 inches tall. A family of four can jump for one hour with the purchase of a family jump package.
The focused breathing that’s core to basic yoga practice is an essential piece of strong heart function. As a winter-friendly aerobic activity, yoga benefits the hearts of both adults and children through increased circulation and increased oxygenation to the body’s tissues, says Yoga Monsters founder and owner Shannon Carnemolla.
The kid-focused Yoga Monsters teaches age-appropriate yoga poses, sequences and breathing in hour-long classes throughout the year. Weekly classes are offered for little yogis ages 3 to 12 on Wednesday evenings in a newly renovated space in Brighton Heights, with classes also offered at Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville.
Yoga Monsters classes encourage kids to use their imaginations and knowledge of the natural world to “play” yoga, Carnemolla says.
“It’s a really wonderful way for kids to get excited about their bodies and what their bodies can do,” Carnemolla says.