When the temperatures drop, you may feel disappointed that it’s time to trade your regular outdoor swims, runs, or bike rides for indoor workout sessions. Instead of heading inside this winter, consider embracing cold-weather workouts. You could enjoy many health benefits by keeping up your regular outdoor workouts or by taking up a cold weather-specific sport, such as skating or cross country skiing.
This article will discuss some of the potential benefits — both physical and mental — of working out when it’s cold.
Boost Your Immune System
In the United States, winter is cold and flu season. At this time of year, you may be interested in ways to boost your immune system and dodge pesky winter viruses. Taking your workouts outdoors could help, according to a review of the scientific literature published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
In one study, winter swimmers experienced a 40% lower incidence of upper respiratory tract diseases than a control group. Another study found that swimming 150 m (492 ft) in 6 °C (43 °F) water significantly boosted a swimmer’s white blood cell counts. If that’s a bit too chilly for you, another study reported that swimming in 14 °C (57 °F) water had a similar effect. The stress hormones your body releases during cold exposure could be responsible for these immune system-boosting effects.
Ward Off Seasonal Depression
Up to 3% of the general population experiences seasonal depression, the National Institutes of Health estimates. Among people with major depressive disorder, this figure could rise to one in five. In people with seasonal depression, the fall and winter months may trigger a depressed mood, low energy, and a loss of interest in daily activities.
Heading outside can be an effective addition to your seasonal depression treatment plan, Mayo Clinic notes. Exposure to outdoor light — even on a cold, winter day — could help lift your mood. If possible, try to head out for a workout within two hours of waking up so you can take advantage of the morning sunshine.
Improve Your Mood
Even if you don’t experience seasonal depression, trading your indoor workouts for outdoor training could offer mental health benefits. A study published in PLoS One looked at the differences between outdoor hiking and indoor treadmill walking. Compared to the treadmill users, the outdoor exercisers reported higher levels of positive feelings such as calmness, contemplation, and elation. They also reported less fatigue.
If you’re looking for a winter-specific sport that could boost your mood, consider cross country skiing. An observational study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that long-distance skiers had a 60% lower risk of developing anxiety disorders compared to non-skiers. This may be because exercising in the cold could help distract your mind from other thoughts and help you stay present in the moment.
Increase Your VO2 Max
The VO2 max, also known as your maximum oxygen consumption, is a measure of how much oxygen you can breathe in and use during your workouts. Essentially, it’s a way to measure your cardiorespiratory fitness. As the American Council on Exercise explains, as your fitness level improves, your VO2 max increases.
Some animal research shows that working out in cold conditions could help increase your VO2 max. In one study, a group of goats was exposed to average temperatures below -13 °C (9°F) during the winter months. Researchers found the animals experienced a 34% increase in their VO2 max. What could this mean for your workouts? The animals in the study were able to run 29% faster, so you could notice a significant difference in your performance.
Boost Fat Burning
If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight or lower your body fat percentage, outdoor workouts might help you get there. Research shows that cold weather training could increase your volume of brown fat, also called brown adipose tissue (BAT), and this is the type of fat that burns calories to help you stay warm in the cold. Brown fat may even use your regular fat for fuel, which could make it useful for weight loss.
In a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers exposed male volunteers to 10 °C (50°F) temperatures for two hours daily for four weeks. After four weeks of regular cold exposure, the men had a 45% greater volume of brown fat tissue. They also showed temporary metabolism increases while exposed to the cold. While they expended 1.3 kcal/min at room temperature, this jumped to 2.5 kcal/min during cold exposure.
Enjoy the Benefits of Cold Weather Workouts
The arrival of colder weather doesn’t mean you need to give up your favorite outdoor workouts. This winter, consider bundling up and taking advantage of the many potential benefits of winter sports and winter workouts. Cold can play an important role after your workout is over, too. After an intense winter workout that leaves your muscles sore, take a refreshing dip in your Ice Barrel as part of your recovery routine.
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