Winter is often seen as the time to stay inside, but a drop in temperature shouldn’t spell a sedentary life. There are some benefits to taking in the chill. Check out these expert-recommended reasons for bundling up and heading out on that snowy stroll.
1. Break Free From The Couch
Walking gets you up and moving. Even after you’ve exhausted your holiday funds, it’s an easy way to get in those steps. “The major benefit of walking is that it’s inexpensive and easily accessible,” says Dr. Chodzko-Zajko, Professor in Applied Health Sciences and Head of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “There are clear health benefits to getting in 150 minutes or more of more of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week, and more and more we’re learning about the adverse consequences of sedentary behavior—particularly sitting and lying.”
While Chodzko-Zajko cautions against pushing past your comfort zone in extreme cold (specifically when the weather drops below zero), he says there’s no reason freezing temperatures should ward off outdoor exercise, especially if you’re dressed for the weather.
2. Soak In Sunshine
There’s something to be said for catching some rays—even when the sun is peeking through bare tree branches or reflecting off of freshly-fallen snow. During a time when people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), exposure to fresh air and sunlight can help improve mental health. “The beauty of nature can boost your spirit,” says Chodzko-Zajko. Not only does it allow you to disconnect from electronics, but a study from Stanford University also found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area showed decreased activity in the region of the brain associated with a key component of depression.
Shorter step sessions can help, too, especially when the stuffiness of the office leaves you feeling under the weather. Going for a walk at lunch, stepping out of recycled air, could help boost your immune system and increase your energy.
3. Burn More Fat
It’s still a matter of debate, but some studies show a correlation between hanging out in the cold and burning more burn. A study in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that time spent in cold temperatures could boost calorie burn (the molecular breakdown of fat) by up to 30 percent.
4. Create A Healthy Habit
While no single exercise works to motivate everyone, Chodzko-Zajko encourages walking because trackers have made it an easy way to take in the beauty of the outdoors while still providing the hard data—from steps to calories burned and miles—that motivates. “Fitness trackers motivate people to monitor their physical activity when they need external reinforcement,” he says. “Knowing how many steps they’ve taken or the amount of time they’ve been physically active helps slowly increase their consistency, which is especially promising for middle-aged and elderly people who have developed sedentary habits.” Once you get up and out and learn how enjoyable that crisp, cool air can be, looking at your data offers an opportunity to pat yourself on the back for developing a healthy habit. And when the weather warms up, it will be that much easier to keep your routine going.
5. Jumpstart Your Entire Fitness Plan
In addition to staying active, smart nutrition is key to any successful fitness plan. As it turns out, sticking to recommended serving sizes—palm size of protein, a fistfull of complex carbs, and a fingers worth of healthy fats—could help if you’re embracing the cold. According to a study in Scientific Reports, people lost weight more effectively (and became more conscientious about tracking their meals and calories) during cold-weather months. Make the calories you burn while stepping more meaningful by logging your meals and snacks—simply click the plus button at the bottom of your Fitbit app dashboard and selecting “log food” or “scan barcode.” If you need a little added accountability, you can set personal alarms to remind you to log your food until it becomes a habit.
Want to start off on the right nutritional foot in 2018? Check out this 7-day kickstart plan.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.