Fall is officially upon us and the colder winter months are looming in the not-so-distant future. While it is tempting to hibernate in the winter, colder temperatures mean the body responds to exercise differently, yielding results you just won’t see in the spring and summer.
Let the unique health benefits of exercising during cold weather be your motivation to stay active this fall and winter. Here they are:
Burn more fat in less time.
Numerous studies have shown that exercising in the cold converts white fat cells, used for storing energy, into brown fat cells which speed up our metabolism. Brown fat breaks down glucose and fat molecules to produce heat and maintain body temperature, which is why cold weather causes this metabolic shift. When the temperature drops, instead of predominantly burning carbohydrates, the body starts burning fat to stay warm.
Soak up some much-needed sunshine.
Most people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD, the most appropriate acronym there is) usually experience symptoms beginning in late fall and lasting through the entire winter. The symptoms are similar to depression. You may feel low energy, hopeless, unable to concentrate, and experience dramatic changes in sleep and appetite.
Luckily, exercising outside during the winter months can fend off seasonal affective disorder by increasing the amount of sunlight you get each day. Exposure to sunlight increases the amount of serotonin the brain releases to keep your mind happy, calm, and focused.
Improve aerobic endurance.
Spending time in the cold causes the blood vessels to constrict as the body adjusts to maintain your core temperature. This physiological process, called vasoconstriction, occurs when the temperature is 50 degrees fahrenheit or below. The blood vessels narrow to reduce blood flow near the body’s surface, keeping blood closer to the core to defend against heat loss.
Vasoconstriction causes the heart and lungs to work harder, which improves muscles’ aerobic capacity. Your VO2 max denotes the maximum rate at which the body can utilize oxygen during exercise. Studies show that cold weather significantly increases VO2 max, which causes our muscles to adapt to using oxygen more efficiently, thereby increasing aerobic endurance.
Keep your immune system strong.
Although the winter months are notoriously cold and flu season, some research suggests that repeated exposure to cold weather can actually give your immune system a boost. A study conducted by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research in 2017 found that regular exercise outdoors in the cold reduced susceptibility to the flu by 20 to 30 percent.
Exercising in the wintertime is always a good idea to protect your immune system, whether you do it outside in the cold weather or not. In addition to improving sleep quality and maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise reduces inflammation to keep your immune system functioning properly.
If you decide to enjoy the benefits of cold weather exercise, prepare accordingly.
Exercising outside in the cold can do wonders for your health, but only when you do it safely. Here are a few helpful reminders for your winter workouts:
Always warm up before a winter workout because cold muscles are more susceptible to strain and injury.
Wear layers and take care to keep your head, hands, and feet warm, as these areas are particularly vulnerable in the cold.
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, especially if the ground is covered in snow that will reflect sunlight back at you.
Hydrate as much as you would in the summer months, even though you may not feel as thirsty.