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Stay active in winter

You can enjoy the great outdoors when it gets colder. Here are some tips.

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

Need help to deal with SAD?

Talk to your primary care provider. Or, if you are having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

Go outside

Luckily, for many living in colder climes, there are endless activities just outside the front door. Perhaps make a (snow) bucket list of all you want to do this winter. We’re talking snowshoeing, skiing (cross-country and downhill), ice skating, hiking, skijoring, sledding, building a snowman, stargazing, and so much more. You can get your heart rate going by just thinking about the outdoors.

(And if you live in a snowless state, you can still enjoy the cooler weather. In fact, you might enjoy your outdoor activities even more — there are less crowds and humidity than in the warmer months.)

What to wear

It’s important to dress for the weather. In the winter, that means wearing layers. This is important because once you get moving, your body temperature will feel 15 to 20 degrees warmer than what the temperature is outside. That’s when you can peel off a layer to avoid excessively sweating, which surprisingly makes you colder. You can always put a layer back on if you get chilly.6

Also, be sure to wear the right footwear for the outdoor terrain. Many companies make shoes and boots that are lightweight and keep your feet warm.

Reflective vests and headlamps are also a must when exercising outside, especially since the days are shorter. You don’t want to find yourself in the dark without the proper gear to light your way home.

Stay inside

Even the hardiest of souls need a break from the great outdoors. Thankfully, the indoor activities you can do are endless. Here are just a few:

  • Take an online fitness class
  • Drive to the mall and walk it
  • Bowl your neighborhood lanes
  • Get artsy (pottery, knitting, painting, anyone?) at home or in class
  • Learn the ukulele or another musical instrument (there are tons of good teachers on YouTube)
  • Go online and see what community events interest you — and do them
  • Bake bread or cookies with a friend or neighbor
  • Learn a new soup recipe


The colder winter months make us reflective and look inward. In doing so you might find that you want to give to others. A great way of doing this is through volunteering. Building homes for families, making and serving food to those in need, reading to children, bringing your pet to a nursing home, and teaching a cherished skill to someone else are all important activities to make others — and yourself — feel warm and fuzzy.

Sleep well

Being active in winter is a good sleep aid. However, be sure to practice good sleep hygiene to maximize your shut-eye. Here are some tips:7

  • Get bright sunlight first thing in the morning
  • Take a walk outside at lunch
  • Eat healthy foods but don’t eat too much
  • Keep your house cool at night
  • Use a humidifier
  • Limit alcohol and screentime before bed

Every season is an opportunity to change things up and develop new routines. This winter take stock of your health and happiness and make choices that will lead you forward to the next season.

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1. Anderson, Mary. “The benefits of winter exercise — and how to do it safely,” March 13, 2023, 

2. Murez, Cara. “Cold weather may help burn fat, and time of day matters,” May 18, 2023, 

3. “Why running outside in the winter is so good for you,” September 13, 2023, 

4. “Seasonal affective disorder,” 

5. Hong, Hana; Seaver, Maggie. “This is how much exercise you need to help prevent and manage depression,” September 4, 2023, 

6. Davis, Wynne. “What should you wear to run in the cold? Build an outfit with this paper doll,” February 1, 2023, 

7. MacMillan, Amanda. “How to improve your winter sleep,” January 28, 2023,

DOFU 11-2023