We love to snuggle with a cup of hot tea and a good book when the temperature drops. It’s in our nature to feel cozy and safe.
However, don’t let the lower temps keep you indoors all winter. Your mental, physical, and emotional health depends on you getting fresh air and sunshine — even when it’s cooler and there’s less of it.
Here are the benefits of staying active in the winter months. And how to do it well — so that you stay well.
The benefits of being active in cold weather
Physical benefits. Whether you live in Minnesota or Texas, you’re going to feel the effects of winter. The question is: How are you going to view the cooler weather? As a nuisance or a reprieve?
According to a health psychologist at Stanford, people who view winter as a season full of opportunity — rather than a limitation — experience more positive emotions and greater well-being and life satisfaction.1
Here’s something positive to think about:
Science backs up the health benefits of exercising in colder temps. The exercise hormone irisin is released, which burns fat faster and positively enhances the activity in your brain’s reward system. In addition, the body’s regular body fat is converted into brown fat, which is good for your metabolism. Plus, the brown fat stays elevated for one hour after exercising in the cold, producing a 5 percent increase in your daily calorie burn.1
If you’re a man, you get extra credit for exercising on cold mornings. Research shows men burn more fat during the a.m. than in the p.m. (Not so for ladies.) This is good news for men’s cardiometabolic health.2
When it comes to endurance, winter workouts increases both men’s and women’s. The energy you get from the cold air may put a pep in your step, pushing you forward to go that extra mile or two.3
Mental and emotional benefits. It’s estimated that 5 percent of Americans have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),3 a type of depression that typically affects people starting in late fall or early winter, when days get shorter and colder. Symptoms include many of the same symptoms associated with major depression and can last four to five months. Some people have been able to successfully manage their condition with light therapy, medication, vitamin D, and psychotherapy (or talk therapy). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that’s been adapted for people with SAD who have negative thoughts about winter. CBT-SAD helps people see the positive aspects of winter by identifying and scheduling fun and engaging indoor and outdoor activities.4
Consistent moderate to high-intensity workouts not only boosts our moods but it also increases the size of the brain’s hippocampus, which lowers the risk of depression. And 35 minutes of daily exercise is likely to decrease chances of experiencing new depression.5