Winter is the perfect time of year for gliding around an ice-skating rink or zooming down ski slopes. But many of us are too busy to take advantage of the season or think it is too cold to head outside.
Well, we have a good excuse for you to get outside and play. It turns out that outdoor activity in the cold has many health benefits. Whether you want to go for a winter walk or jog, or try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, you can feel good about enjoying some winter fun knowing that you’re burning calories and getting your heart rate up.
As long as you prepare properly, there is no need to worry about some of the dangers the cold can pose. If you’re exercising or staying active, it’s very difficult for your body temperature to drop dangerously low, said Dain LaRoche, an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire who has researched winter sports performance. Just be sure to bundle up and watch out for ice.
So, next time you are looking for an excuse to take your kids – or yourself – sledding, think about these health benefits that come with playing outside during the winter.
1. Cold can increase your resting metabolism
People who are consistently exposed to cold often have speedier metabolisms, LaRoche, a University of New Hampshire professor, said. Even spending an hour or two outside every day can help you burn more energy, as long as you are doing it consistently, he said.
Try taking a walk around the block every day or build a snowman with your kids. In addition to the cardio benefits you’ll get from those activities, just being outside in the cold will help you stay slim.
2. It can help cure the winter blues
Getting outside and into sunlight can help drive away winter depression. When the days are shorter and many people feel trapped inside, seeing a little sunlight can work wonders, LaRoche said. “I think there’s a lot to be said for just getting outdoors in the winter,” he said.
Exercising also causes your brain to release epinephrine, or adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which make us happy. And getting active in the cold can cause your brain to release even more of the substances, LaRoche said.
So don’t be afraid to have a snowball fight or try cross-country skiing one weekend. It just might cheer you up.
3. Winter activity can help your body produce vitamin D
Sunlight causes your body to make vitamin D, and it is especially important to get outside during the daytime in the winter, when the shorter days and cold weather often keep us inside. Even 15 minutes of sunlight on your face and hands two or three times each week will help you get enough of the vitamin, according to Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.
Vitamin D helps build healthy bones and keep them strong as you get older, and has some other health benefits as well. So next time you’re out sledding with your kids or skiing, take your gloves off for a few minutes and soak up the sun.
4. You burn more energy
Not only do many typical winter activities provide a great cardio workout — have you ever noticed how tired you are after an hour of ice skating? – but you are likely to burn more energy in the cold.
Your body is less efficient in the cold weather, LaRoche said. And, he added, you are carrying around the added weight of a winter jacket, hat, gloves, and any other winter gear you might be wearing.
That is why running a mile in cold weather takes more energy than a mile in the summer. And, LaRoche said, even cold-weather activities that might not seem like they require a lot of energy, such as snowshoeing, burn a ton of energy.
5. Cold can cause your body to burn fat
Your body likely burns up stored fat when you get cold, according to some preliminary studies. Researchers have discovered that a certain type of fat starts to fuel itself when you get cold by using up regular fat in your body.
The tissue, called brown fat, is found in rodents and babies, neither of which can shiver to keep warm, according to the New York Times. Several years ago, it was also discovered in adults.
According to the New York Times, one researcher found that when the fat was turned on, it burned about 250 calories over three hours. But, the New York Times notes, much remains unknown about brown fat and the effects it can have.