It can be hard to get the motivation for a workout in the cold winter months, let alone do it outside. But exercising out in the cold actually carries benefits above and beyond what you get from a gym. Here’s why you should be taking that workout outside, no matter what the weather.
1. More Incentive to Stay Moving
Moving is the natural way to keep your body warm. If you’re outside in the cold, you have less of an excuse to slack on your workout because moving keeps you warm. Unlike your comfortable, climate-controlled gym where you don’t feel the need to move at all times, you want to move when out in the cold.
2. Burn More Calories
While being out in the cold doesn’t mean your body magically burns more calories, it does help. Because your body temperature is more easily regulated in the cold, you can exercise longer than you normally would.
Cold weather also makes you shiver. While you shouldn’t be shivering while you workout, you may find yourself shaking as you warm up and cool down. Still, be sure to dress warmly enough that you won’t be impacted while you run, cycle, snow shoe, or perform any other outside exercise.
3. Build Endurance
You make your body work harder in cold air. More layers are weighing you down and increasing air resistance. You must challenge yourself and push harder, which strengthens your cardiovascular system. You can also exercise longer than you normally would, which also builds more resistance.
4. Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a type of depression associated with a lack of natural sunlight that normally flares up during the winter months. Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and weight gain. Using light therapy to mimic sunlight has become a common treatment for this disorder, but why not get your boost of vitamin D by exercising outside instead?
While there’s naturally less sunlight because of the shorter days, we also don’t go outside nearly as much in the winter months thanks to the cold. Instead, we find ourselves wanting to huddle under blankets to stay warm. But if you suffer from SAD, this isn’t doing you any favors. An outside workout can remedy this by giving you access to natural sunlight and supplying you with natural mood lifters in the form of endorphins.
5. Set a Great Example for Your Kids
Who says a workout has to be about work? Make it about play instead. Unstructured play helps kids build physical, social, and sensory skills. If it’s snowy outside, get everyone all bundled up for a snowball fight. Build snowmen or go sledding. Or how about a walk in the snow? That will definitely make you sweat! Try getting around on snowshoes with your kids in the backyard or the playground.
Playing with your kids offers benefits for both you and them. Your kids build skills they’ll need as they grow while you burn calories and work up a sweat. Plus, you’re all having a blast.
6. Elevate Your Mood
Even if you don’t have SAD, winter blues can affect almost everyone. Exercise helps remedy that. During a workout, your brain increases its production of serotonin and norepinephrine. Low levels of these neurotransmitters have been connected to depression, so it’s no wonder that boosting production of these feel-good chemicals cheers you up.
Exercise can also help the body practice how it reacts to stress. If you workout on a regular basis, your body can respond better to stressors (another thing that will definitely help out your mood in the long run).
7. Drink More Water
Winter can play tricks on you when it comes to working out. You still get hot and sweaty, but the sweat evaporates faster in the cold air, leading you to believe you aren’t losing as much water. The thirst response in your body is also lower, making you believe you’re properly hydrated when you aren’t.
Working out can help you combat dehydration if you follow the hydration regimen you stay on during other parts of the year. Even if you feel like you’re hydrated, drink the same amount you would in the summer. This ensures you really are as hydrated as you need to be, even if your body is telling you otherwise.
Don’t let winter be an excuse for you to stay on the couch or in the gym. Get outside and get active. There’s no reason not to.
Photo from iStock/Halfpoint