4 surprising benefits of exercising outdoors

As the winter months roll around, exercise in the cold becomes increasingly common for the majority of individuals. The experience of exercising in the cold is one of mixed opinions; however, did you know that exercising in the cold may actually be viewed as a ‘performance enhancing aid’?

4 surprising benefits of exercising in the cold

  1. Immunity boost: Cold temperatures impose a stress on the human body unlike nothing else. Although research has demonstrated a reduction in immunity during intense exercise in the cold, the reverse effect has been shown to occur during a period of time after the exercise. Study’s have demonstrated that a increased norepinephrine level side-effect which occurs during exercise in the cold is responsible for this boost in immunity afterwards. Norepinephrine is a naturally occurring chemical, produced by the adrenal glands, and acts as a stress hormone in response to the cold. However, it is important to understand that exercise does not have a positive correlation to immunity. Too much exercise can lead to overtraining syndrome, which has adverse effects on the immune system. So although it has been shown that exercise in smaller amounts can boost immunity, too much may decrease it. Finding the correct balance may be tricky, but will benefit your immunity drastically in the long term.

2. increased energy expenditure: Exercise in the cold that leads to a fall in body temperature can be extremely dangerous. However, the body being a super-complex machine has mechanisms to maintain thermoregulation. In the case of the cold, the body adopts shivering to help prevent heat loss. Shivering is a non-voluntary response to the cold, whereby non-rhythmic skeletal muscle contractions occur to prevent a fall in body temperature below 3-4 degrees. This response of increased muscular contractions additionally has the benefits of around a 2.5x increase in total energy expenditure. Simply by exercising in the cold, you are able to burn significantly more calories than compared to a moderate climate.

3. Increased fat loss: Recent research has demonstrated that increased exercise in the cold can contribute to the transformation of white fat into brown fat. White fat is large stores of unhealthy fats which contribute to obesity, whereas, brown fat is smaller stores of healthier fat which actually contribute towards calorie burning in the body. During exercise in the cold, brown fat is activated and begins to be produced, replacing the stores of white fat. This, overall, contributes to an increased calorie burn in the body.

4. Increase in mood: The link between the winter months and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is one that is now being recognised. SAD is commonly referred to as ‘winter depression’ and although we are currently unaware of what causes it, it may be linked to the bad weather and lack of sunlight. Exercising in the outdoors during the winter can help your brain release endorphins to make you feel good and reduce the ‘winter blues’. Additionally, an increasing body of research is suggesting that exercising outside can increase your chances of exercising again when compared to indoor exercise. However you choose to exercise, doing it outdoors has the additional health benefits of sunlight, vitamin D and reduced screen time, whilst still getting all the benefits including a higher level of vitality and self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Outdoor exercise safety:

It is still important to be cautious when exercising outdoors as although it has a vast amounts of benefits, it may pose a risk if not completed in a sensible manner. Perhaps the most prominent danger of exercise outside is the risk of hypothermia. This is a response to cold exposure where your body core temperature drops to 35 degrees or lower. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, loss of sensation in extremities, mental confusion, lack of coordination and unconsciousness. Hypothermia increases your risk of frostbite and may lead to serious health complications if not treated.

However, ensuring you follow a few simple steps can keep you safe exercising outdoors in the winter, and allow you to retrieve all of its benefits. These include:

  • Clothing: Ensuring that you wear several layers of clothing can help keep in heat and regulate core body temperature.
  • Cover your head, hands and feet: Your body extremities are where you loose the greatest proportion of heat, so making your you wear a hat, gloves and thick socks will help drastically reduce this and keep you warm.
  • Waterproof: Wearing waterproof clothing is important to keep vital parts of clothing dry. Damp clothes can be dangerous as it can significantly increase heat loss from your body and put you at risk of developing cold disorders.
  • Hydration: Although you may not perspire as much during the winter as you would in other seasons, it is still critical to stay hydrated. The decrease in temperature means that you loose a significantly greater volume of fluids breathing than you normally would in warmer temperatures. Ensuring you sip on a bottle of water regularly can help reduce your risk of dehydration and help regulate your core body temperature.

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