With the light starting to fade and the temperature starting to drop, the temptation can be to put your outdoors exercise programme on hold until the days start getting longer and warmer weather returns in the Spring.
Though training outside in the winter months can be tough, the health benefits are worth the extra effort involved. In no particular order, the benefits of exercising outdoors in the cold winter months include:
1. Your body burns more calories – This is a great motivator, especially if fat loss is a key goal. Your body needs to work harder to keep it’s core temperature up when you exercise in the cold weather. We also tend to eat more and consume more calories in the winter months, so if you want to avoid the corresponding increase in body fat that extra calorie consumption brings, then there is no better way than getting out to your local park and doing a workout in cold conditions to get that extra calorie burn.
2. Your endurance improves – There is no denying that exercising outside in the cold can be tough, but it does toughen you up both mentally and physically and improves heart and lung health. Your heart has to work harder when you exercise in the cold and this helps to improve the strength of the heart muscle. So if you are training for a a physical challenge such as a 10km run in the spring, then do the hard yards by training outside in the winter months to improve your mind and body’s ability to handle tougher challenges; not just with your training but with anything that life throws at you.
3. Exercising outside makes you feel good – The feel good hormone endorphin causes the body to release dopamine and serotonin, which will improve your mood and make you feel happier. This feel good factor is boosted further by exercising in the open air in a green space. So if you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder), anxiety or depression, then lace up your trainers and head outside. Even if it is cold and wet, you know that within five minutes of finishing your training session, you will be back home in a hot shower feeling much better about yourself than when you first headed out the front door.
4. Your body is able to produce vitamin D – With shorter days and inclement weather, your body can struggle to produce the required levels of vitamin D, which can reduce the body’s ability to develop and strengthen bones. So get outside an exercise in the daylight hours to help your bones remain strong and healthy.
5. It’s invigorating – The sense of achievement you feel when you have exercised outside can really help you make you feel good about yourself. When you exercise in the morning, it sets you up well to face what the rest of the day is going to throw at you.
How to get the best out of exercising outdoors in the cold & wet winter months
1. Plan ahead and get the right clothes. Wear plenty of layers and invest in a good lightweight breathable waterproof jacket. Get a pair of gloves and a hat and wear a bright reflective top layer, especially if you are heading out running. Lay out your kit the night before your next training day, so you don’t waste time trying to locate your stuff while trying to get out the door to do your session.
2. Keep the extremities (hands and ears) covered in extreme cold. If you are doing outdoor exercise classes then go for waterproof gloves with an insulated lining. Also take a waterproof bag to put your layers and valuables in while you train.
3. Readjust your training goals for the winter months. Exercising outside in the cold does get easier but your measurement criteria of progress needs to be more aligned to effort put in, instead of miles covered or target times beaten; which you may well use to good effect to track performance when exercising in more favourable conditions.
4. Take a water bottle as you need to remain well hydrated. You often don’t feel thirsty when exercising in the cold and sweat quickly evaporates from the body in the cold air. A 2% drop of body weight through dehydration results in a corresponding drop in athletic performance of circa 30%.
5. Take time to warm up and cool down properly. Make sure your body can acclimatise via an effective warm up to so that it can adjust when you leave the warmth of your house and venture outside.
6. Check the weather forecast before you head out and dress accordingly. Watch out for conditions under foot, especially ice. Make sure you have old newspaper inside by the front door to stand on and use to stuff your trainers when you return so that they can dry out in time for your next out door exercise session.
7. Tell others where you are going and when you are likely to return. Take a charged mobile and some money with you. Make sure you mobile and money are in a waterproof jacket pocket or belt.
So now you know the benefits of exercising outdoors in the cold winter months, get yourself prepared, lace up your trainers and get out there and start to reap the rewards. Your mind and body will soon start to thank you for making the effort.