Exercising outdoors in winter may seem like a scary idea or something for hardcore fitness fans. It is cold and dark most of the time, and all that ice looks like the easiest way to break your ankle. However, experts are unanimous - winter exercise is the best!
Image Credit: michelangeloop / istockphoto.com
Benefits of exercising in the cold
Sure, many go on training in the gym even in the winter months, but there are specific advantages to training outdoors in the cold season:
- Burn more – your body has to increase its metabolic rate to balance its temparture when it’s cold, so you’ll burn more calories than in warm weather – regardless of the sport you do.
- Boost your immune system – some research suggests that increased metabolic rates also strengthen your immune system; therefore, skiing or skating can be the best preventive measure for flu!
- Help your heart – if you have a healthy heart, you can do it a favor by exercising in the cold: the heart will have to pump stronger to keep you warm, resulting in a great workout for the heart muscle itself.
- Fight depression – exercise in general, and outdoors especially, releases endorphins and sertotonin, which promote the feeling of happiness and help fight SAD, or Seasonal affective disorder, commonly expressed as depression in winter and autumn (more info on SAD here).
- Get a dose of vitamin D – we’ve already written about the risks of vitamin D deficiency; even 15 minutes of winter sun can eliminate that risk.
Winter requires extra caution
Once you get used to exercising in cold weather, you will start to enjoy it just as much – or even more – than working out in summer. However, winter is not a completely harmless season, so take precautions:
- Dress in layers – it’s better to dress too warm and then shed layers than dress too light and hope to get warm later. Use thermal underwear, waterproof Goretex shoes, and trekking socks, and don’t forget gloves and hat. Hypothermia is a real risk, especially in the morning and evening, when it’s particularly cold; if you start shivering or feel nauseous, go home immediately and take a warm bath (more on hypothermia here).
- Hydrate! Sweat evaporates very quickly in the cold air, so it may seem like you are not sweating – a dangerous illusion! Make sure to drink just as much as when exercising in the heat.
- Careful with your heart – if you have any heart issues, consult your doctor before engaging in winter sports: it may be too much for your heart.
- Use sunscreen – the sun may be low above the horizon, but its reflection off the snow means that you can burn quickly.
- Warm up properly: you have a much higher risk of injury if you work out in a cold envirnoment without a proper warm-up routine.
Choose your sport
Regardless of your fitness level, you will surely find a winter sport you can enjoy; and as a particular bonus, most of them are great calorie burners! For instance, cross-country skiing burns 400-600 calories an hour depending on your speed; you will burn 400 calories when doing downhill skiing. Snowshoeing is a beautiful activity that burns 500, and running will destroy 400-500 calories more. It doesn’t have to be a real sport: simply clearing snow or building a snowman can burn 300-400 calories.
Hopefully, we have convinced you. Another advice: don’t wait for the next sunny day. Put your warm shoes on and go out now! And the next weekend, make sure to get your kids or call some friends and go skiing in the forest, do a showshoe hike, or simply fight a huge snowball battle!
Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise – Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Calories burnt doing winter activities – Calorielab.com
The Effects of Temperature and Seasons on Subcutaneous White Adipose Tissue in Humans: Evidence for Thermogenic Gene Induction – Academic.oup.com