6 Benefits of Exercising in Cold Weather
Working up the motivation to exercise when the weather grows more and more frigid feels like a herculean effort. You have to put on so many layers of clothing to stay comfortable, it’s often dark, and icy conditions don’t make things any easier. Though a sweat session outside might not be the easy choice, it’s a pretty good one. Tough it out, and you’ll score these six benefits.
1. You might burn more calories
Though many like to think exercising in chilly temperatures alone will increase your calorie burn, studies don’t support this claim. The problem is your body does a fantastic job of generating heat once you get moving. As long as you’re adequately dressed, you aren’t going to scorch more calories doing the exact same thing.
Before you get too bummed, there is a way you can use the winter elements to your advantage. If you notice a layer of fluffy white stuff on the sidewalk, lace up. Running in the snow is a lot more difficult than running on concrete, sort of like a jogging on a sandy beach. If you switch to snowshoes, you’ll scorch even more calories. In some cases, men can burn more than 1,000 calories after an hour of snowshoeing. Keep in mind, it’s a tough activity. You’ll likely need to ease into it before going nuts.
2. You’ll ward off the winter blues
Seasonal affective disorder, the fancy term for the depression people experience during the winter, sinks its claws into a pretty huge chunk of the population each year. According to research published in Psychiatry, somewhere around 20% of Americans find themselves suffering from severe to mild depression during the cold months. One of the best ways to combat this blah feeling it to get moving.
Exercising helps our bodies create more of the feel-good hormones called endorphins. While hitting the treadmill or elliptical can certainly give you this boost, some research suggests heading outdoors increases the effect. A 2013 review published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine reported exercising outside better promoted feelings of revitalization and positive engagement. Your workout doesn’t even have to be all that long. The review went on to reveal the first five minutes of outdoor activity are the most beneficial.
3. Increasing intensity is less difficult
Whether you like to walk, run, or bike, the heat and humidity of summer make it pretty difficult to up your intensity or mileage. Winter, on the other hand, makes it a lot easier to handle since you aren’t subject to the same stresses. And don’t think you can get away with the old excuse that the cold air is bad for your lungs because it just isn’t true.
If you’re after a new personal record on the race course, a chillier temperature could be exactly what you need. A 2007 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found marathon runners clocked progressively worse times as temperature increased. If you do choose to race in the cold, just be sure you do an adequate warm-up so you don’t feel tight when the gun goes off.
4. You’ll boost your immune system
Every winter brings a new round of nasty sick spells, which most people blame on the cold weather. Being in the cold doesn’t give you a cold, though. WebMD explained viruses make you feel crummy, not exposure to chilly temperatures. All the more reason to to head out for a workout, because Harvard Medical School lists exercise as one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system. And because staying cooped up inside exposes you to more people who may be harboring this season’s latest cold, getting away from all those folks may actually reduce your chances of catching the same bug.
5. You won’t zone out
A warm day with clear sidewalks and streets offers plenty of opportunities to zone out while you exercise, which is bad for your overall calorie burn as well as your general safety. When it’s darker, slipperier, and snowier, you have to focus more on what you’re doing. But make sure you’re dressing to be seen. Ensembles composed entirely of black or white material won’t cut it for visibility, so go for brighter colors and reflectors.
6. You’ll maintain your fitness
Those with gym memberships struggle to use them as much as they intend when the weather’s pleasant, so they’re unlikely to do much better once a trip there means venturing into the cold. Most even admit to working out less during the coldest months of the year. Skipping some exercise from time to time isn’t a big deal, but a short break can easily stretch into a prolonged one.
According to Berkley Wellness, this period of detraining can lead to aerobic loss in just a few weeks. Muscular strength doesn’t diminish quite as quickly, but it also suffers. One study from 2001 found muscular strength diminishes after four weeks, but both sport-specific and recently acquired strength suffer even sooner. Maintain your routine this winter, and spring workouts will be a lot less of a chore.
More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet:
- 10 Bizarre Things That Happen to Your Body When You Exercise
- What You Need to Know About the Whole30 Diet
- 7 Ways to Stay Motivated at Work
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