5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in Winter

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Women working out in winter
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Brrrrr! It’s chilly out there. But instead of spending the rest of winter hibernating on your couch and bingeing on bonbons, head outside and embrace the elements! Doing so can benefit your mental and physical health in several ways.

From strengthening your bones to improving your immunity, here are five ways outdoor exercise can boost your health this winter.

1. You burn more calories

Voyagerix / Shutterstock.com
Voyagerix / Shutterstock.com

Working out when it is cold forces you to expend more energy to raise your body temperature. Jo Zimmerman, an instructor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland and a trainer, told the Washington Post:

“If you are making athletic-level effort — cycling hard, running at a training level — you are burning 10 to 40 percent more calories in the cold than you would in more temperate temperatures.”

According to WebMD, you can expect to burn the following number of calories when engaging in one hour of these winter activities:

  • Skating: 500 to 700
  • Cross-country skiing: 500 to 700
  • Snowshoeing: 400 to 600
  • Playing hockey: 400 to 600
  • Downhill skiing or snowboarding: 300 to 450

2. You strengthen bones

Voyagerix / Shutterstock.com
Voyagerix / Shutterstock.com

Cabin fever is not the only risk associated with hibernating indoors during the winter months. Staying inside also deprives you of sunlight, which in turn can reduce production of vitamin D inside your body.

You need vitamin D for strong bones. Lynn Millar, chairwoman and professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, tells the Arthritis Foundation:

“Vitamin D is important for keeping bones strong; it’s particularly important for people with arthritis who take corticosteroids because they have an increased risk of brittle bones.”

Unfortunately, you need to expose your skin to sunlight to get this benefit. That is tricky — and potentially dangerous — in Northern climes. So, this tip might work best in the South and parts of the West, where temperatures regularly rise into the 50s, 60s and beyond in winter.

As little as 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure can produce a lot of vitamin D in most people, according to the BBC.

3. You stay healthier

Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com
Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

It might seem like spending all that time in the ice and snow would make you more vulnerable to colds and the flu. But it is more likely that your outdoor activity will boost your immune system.

A 2015 study found that exercise strengthens your immune system by repeatedly stressing it. Although the study focused on the effect of exercise in animals, researchers believe the findings translate to humans as well.

According to Yoonkyung Park, a professor of biomedical science at South Korea’s Chosun University who oversaw the research:

“We strongly believe that long-term, regular exercise can considerably improve the immune defense mechanism.”

4. You raise your spirits

Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com
Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

Do the cold, dark days of winter leave you feeling down? One of the best ways to banish the winter blues is to embrace the very weather that is making your spirits sag.

Just five minutes of activity can begin to lift your mood, and a sustained exercise regimen can help alleviate long-term depression, according to the American Psychological Association.

5. You get a better workout

Vitalii Nesterchuk / Shutterstock.com
Vitalii Nesterchuk / Shutterstock.com

Numerous studies have found that exercising outdoors in the natural elements can result in a better workout than exercising in a gym. For example, when running outside, you face several types of challenges — uphill climbs, downhill descents, wind resistance — that are difficult to accurately duplicate on a treadmill.

Studies also have discovered that people who exercise outdoors are active more often and for longer periods than indoor exercisers. Researchers also have found that people who exercise outdoors enjoy it more. So, what are you waiting for? Bundle up and get out there!