These 3 Perks Of Cold Weather Exercise Will Convince You To Go Outside

Properly warming up before exercising outside in the cold weather is an important way to protect your muscles from injury.

Exercise, whether inside or outside, is supremely healthy — it reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, makes you stronger, lowers your risk of cancer and boosts your mood.

What’s more, working out in the cold weather actually packs additional benefits for your physical and mental health. We asked experts to share the best reasons to exercise in the chilly air. The next time you’re struggling to find the motivation for an outdoor workout on a cold winter day, remember these perks:

Your heart has to work a little harder, which can benefit your endurance.

People who run marathons often go by the adage, “If I can train on a rainy, cold day, I can run on a sunny, spring day.” Turns out there is a lot of truth to that.

According to Angela Pepdjonovic, a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, “Your heart has to work a little bit harder to pump blood around your body during exercise, particularly in the cold … This can help to boost your endurance over time as this enhances your body’s ability to regulate temperature efficiently.”

Those cold-weather cardiovascular perks can propel you year-round, Pepdjonovic said. Plus, “As your body is required to work harder than it normally would to maintain its core temperature, some studies show that you actually increase your calorie burn by exercising in the cold,” Pepdjonovic added.

However, it’s worth noting that while a cold weather heart pump can be beneficial for some, it can be dangerous for others.

“There are definitely some risks … your cardiovascular system is working harder, so some underlying conditions [like COPD or asthma] can become exacerbated,” Pepdjonovic explained. Without proper precautions, folks with these kinds of conditions are at risk of complications “because, essentially, the cold air is constricting some of the blood vessels in the lungs, which disrupts some of the airflow and can make it harder to breathe.”

You should consult your doctor before working out in cold weather if you have underlying conditions that could make it dangerous for you, noted Dr. Melissa Leber, the director of Emergency Department Sports Medicine at Mt. Sinai Health System in New York.

Working out in the cold gives you a natural push to get moving ― and it may help you work out longer.

“One of the benefits of getting outside is it kind of automatically makes you want to move,” Leber said.

Going outside for a cold weather workout is kind of like a natural push to exercise. You may find that you’re more inclined to walk faster if it means you’ll be warmer on frigid days.

Also, have you ever had to end a run or walk early because of intense humidity or blazing sun? You may find yourself spending more time exercising in the cold compared to the heat.

“When there’s decreased heat and humidity, you are just able to go a little bit further,” said Shelby York, a physical therapist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Working out in the cold benefits your mental health.

As a whole, exercise is known to be beneficial to your mental health. Studies show it can help with anxiety, be a stress reliever and even help ease depression. And if you’re exercising outdoors on a sunny winter day, it can help with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, York said.

Beyond this, “Just getting exposure to more natural light and fresh air helps to increase your endorphins, which ultimately helps to reduce your stress and improve your energy levels when we are in that tough time of year where we’re not getting the same amount of exercise or outdoor time,” Pepdjonovic said.

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Properly warming up before exercising outside in the cold weather is an important way to protect your muscles from injury.

There are a few things you need to do in order to fully reap the benefits of cold weather workouts.

Exercising in the cold requires some strategy. The first thing you should do is warm up. If you don’t, there is more of a muscular injury risk. “Cold conditions can cause your muscles to tense up,” said Pepdjonovic.

York said you should focus on doing a dynamic warmup. This means doing lunges, high knees, hip swings and squats as opposed to holding static stretches like toe touches, butterfly stretches or calf stretches. “I think there’s this thought in society where static stretching is a good warmup, but that’s actually not the case, you want to do more of a dynamic warmup,” York said.

It’s also important to wear the right gear. You don’t want to be too cold or too hot when you’re exercising outside, and it can be hard to find the right balance.

Make sure to dress in layers. How many you use is up to you, but Pepdjonovic said to start with a moisture-wicking base layer so your body can regulate its heat. An outer layer that’s windproof and waterproof is also a good idea.

“I often will tell people, if you’re doing more of an endurance sport outside, like running or cross-country skiing, the first five minutes you go outside you probably should be cold … and then once you continue to warm up and get into activity, then you’re going to be at the right temperature,” said Dr. Alex McDonald, a family medicine and sports physician in California.

If you’re warm enough as soon as you step outside, you’re probably overdressed; if you don’t warm up after five minutes or so, you are probably underdressed, McDonald added.

“It’s also just important to protect your extremities like your hands, your feet, your ears, to help regulate your temperature and keep you safe” from issues like frostbite, Pepdjonovic noted.

Ultimately, however, if you aren’t someone who enjoys exercising outside in the cold, you shouldn’t let it limit your winter exercise.

“The benefits of exercising ― and exercising consistently ― far outweigh any potential benefits of exercising outside,” McDonald said. “Physical activity and exercise [are] just critically important, and the weather or the time of year is not an excuse because, at this point, there’s just so many options and ways that you can exercise safely, either indoors or safely outdoors with the appropriate precautions and preparation steps.”

There’s no wrong choice when deciding whether to exercise outside or inside this winter. But if you’re willing to brave the cold, you might just discover some great perks.

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